John Gardner at Home

Memories from Julia Black

Dear John,

I was completely devastated to hear that you have a highly aggressive cancer. It has taken so many wonderful colleagues far too early in their lives: Mike Redmayne, Deborah Cass, Helen Reece. I am deeply sad that we will lose you too.

I have always been a tremendous admirer of your energy and intellect, and in awe of your scholarship. I am very sorry that we have never been direct colleagues and at least institutional companions even if not scholarly ones - your work is too far ahead of mine for that.

When I think of you in this time, I think of my father-in-law, who lived in Oxford and who I loved very much, who died just over 10 years ago from lung cancer; he lived almost exactly the six months he was anticipated to on diagnosis. But I remember those months with deep intensity. In his case, he spent them writing up the diaries of his family’s farm in Zambia, as his grandparents were part of the white settler community who were encouraged out to Africa in the late 19th century. He had been a publisher and he and my husband published them as a private print run, though sadly Terence never got to see the final product. But he also left us all with the most precious memories from that time, as we all knew we had only a short time left with him. He also left each of his grandchildren a memory box with an object that they had played with at their house and associated with him, and a letter telling them very personally what they each meant to him. Even though the children were young that really touched them, and still does. My mother, on the other hand, never admitted she was dying until a few days before she did, even though the prognosis was clear to all but her and my father. As a result she and he lived those months very differently. My father-in-law in effect counselled us before he died and enabled us to say how much we loved him and to share memories whilst he was still alive, making those last few months a tremendously precious time where we cried and laughed in equal measure.

I don’t need to say what a huge loss you will be to your family and friends. But you are loved and admired by many, and you will be a significant loss to scholarship and to the academy too.

I hope you and your family live this period to the fullest extent possible, with tears of course but with love and laughter too.

With love to you all,