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Dr Anne Paterson Johnson (nee Kerr)


Dr ‘Pat' Kerr, in the Department of French Studies from 1969 until her retirement in 1997, died after a long period of illness on 21 May 2011. Born in Kent in a family with strong Scottish farming connections, she was called ‘Pat' from her schooldays to distinguish her from a classmate, Anne Kerr.

She read French at the University of Reading (1959-1963) in a Department where the language and literature were linked to the historical development of philosophy, society and politics. She acquired a particular interest in 19th Century French history, undertaking a thesis on Charles Rémusat (1797-1875) under the supervision of the then Head of Department, George Lehmann, which brought her a PhD degree in 1971.

Meanwhile, after a short period at the University of Aberdeen, Pat joined the staff of the French Department at Reading University in 1969. There she met Peter Mayer, director of a project launched after World War II by a French National Commission to produce a modern edition of the works and correspondence of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). She supported the project initially by giving considerable help to Hugh Brogan, editor of the volume of correspondence between Tocqueville and Nassau Senior, especially when the Commission asked that letters written in English should be translated into French. She herself edited a later volume of correspondence between Tocqueville and Adolphe and Anastasie de Circourt, a volume of considerable historical and biographical importance published in 1983. However, Pat did not appreciate the Commission's insistence that she correct grammatical and other writing errors in the letters.

Meanwhile, she worked with Peter Mayer to edit a work by Montesquieu and joined her colleagues David Hanley and Neville Waites to write Contemporary France: Politics and Society (1979; 2nd edition 1984) to which she contributed chapters on the French Constitution and the educational system. Pat also undertook major administrative responsibilities, notably as Examinations Officer and in 1985 was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

At the time of her early retirement in 1997, the Commission in Paris persuaded her to edit a volume on the English correspondence of Tocqueville and in 2000 the French Government recognised the great value of her work by awarding the medal of Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques. Unfortunately, while working long hours to respond to the Commission's pressure for publication of the Tocqueville volume, she became seriously ill.

Pat Kerr's integrity, sense of duty and strength of character were much valued. In a French Department with a diversity of opinions and interests matching that of French cheeses, the staff elected Pat to attend several important Committees to represent departmental views. She could kill off a controversial proposal simply by saying ‘I hae ma doots' and once told Mrs Thatcher to change her educational policy. She rejected a proposal on room changes by the then head of the History  Department, a forceful Yorkshireman, who later complained about ‘that bloody Scotswoman'. But at the same time she would put herself out to help colleagues. For example, she sang chansons by Ronsard, Marot and Belleau to support a colleague's lecture on ‘Poetry and Music in 16th Century France' and she performed at Christmas staff-student Cabarets by singing ‘L'Amour de Moy', a late Medieval song rediscovered in the 19th Century, and ‘Le Temps des Cerises', written in 1866 by Clément and Renard. Pat would also often go the extra mile to help tutees and other students in difficulty.

Pat had a warm sense of humour. For example, at Staff Meetings she would make a risqué or non-pc remark and then clap a hand over her mouth in mock apology. Suggesting that animals are sensitive to music, she told friends about a time when cows came up to a Scottish farmhouse to listen to her family singing Christmas carols. She had a fund of memorable aphorisms. When meeting colleagues for late afternoon tea and hearing their accounts of student problems, she would take her leave and say ‘Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof'. When a colleague was replaced after messing up an administrative job, she commented ‘Inefficiency is its own reward'.

With a beautiful contralto voice, Pat sang solo at many Concerts and Recitals, usually accompanied by her colleague and friend, Brian Kemp. He was particularly impressed by her ability to adapt sensitively to many genres of music, whether classical or folk, serious or amusing. Pat was greatly appreciated by friends, colleagues and students, but especially by Michael Johnson whom she married in September 1994 and who had known her originally when they were both students at Reading before their paths diverged. As her health deteriorated he devoted himself to giving her   every possible moral and physical support.

Neville Waites

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