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Dr Hilda D Spear

Writer and lecturer in English

Writer and lecturer in English

Born August 27,1926; Died May 10, 2014

Dr Hilda D Spear, who has died aged 87, was a writer and lecturer whose main research interest was 20th century literature. She produced numerous studies of the works of writers including EM Forster, DH Lawrence and John Fowles although her most popular proved to be her Macmillan Master Guide to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. She was also a leading light in Dundee University's English department.

Another of her greatest passions was First World War poetry, her fascination for which fired the enthusiasm of students on her course on literature of the Great War. Many of those students went on to postgraduate study related to the conflict.

Within Dundee University, Dr Spear was an indefatigable force when it came to organising both academic and social events, while, in parallel to her career, also raising two daughters and supporting her husband in his work as a distinguished physicist. In retirement, she went on to champion and protect a part of Dundee's environmental heritage.

Born in Pinner, Middlesex, Dr Spear was educated at Harrow County Girls School and Furzedown College. She was engaged in postgraduate work in English literature at the University of London's Birkbeck College when, in 1952, she married her husband, Walter, who was lecturing there.

The following year, when he was appointed to a post as a physics lecturer at the then University College of Leicester, the couple moved to nearby Oadby, and later spent a year in America when he was offered a visiting professorship at Purdue University, Lafayette in Indiana. While there, Dr Spear worked as an assistant in the English department and before returning to Leicester the couple enjoyed a three-month road trip through the American west, California and Canada.

By the early 1960s she was a mother of two young girls and when they started nursery she returned to teaching as a part-time lecturer. The family headed north to Scotland in 1968, when Prof Spear was appointed to the Harris chair of physics at the University of Dundee, and ultimately settled in a house overlooking the River Tay. The couple later bought and renovated an 18th century forester's cottage in Perthshire. The project took them a decade to complete but provided a welcome weekend bolthole and holiday home away from the city.

Dr Spear joined the university's English department in 1969 and played a leading role in all aspects of it from teaching to research and administration. Her interest in literature had begun in childhood when books and poetry opened up a whole new world of excitement, romance and possibilities beyond her life in the small village of Pinner.

Her father, an avid reader and amusing raconteur, was a Merchant Navy seaman who had lived through the First World War - experiences that also influenced her interest in war poetry. She was fascinated by the paradox illustrated by the genre: the sense of patriotism, glory and romance countered by the suffering, fear and death that was the reality of conflict.

Her monograph Remembering, We Forget: A Background to the Poetry of The First World War, published in 1979, was one of the most significant of her many publications.

Another major piece of work was her study, Iris Murdoch, which first appeared in 1995. She was friendly with the author and on one occasion Murdoch and her husband John Bayley visited The Burn, the Edzell mansion used by staff and students. The country house was also the setting for Shakespeare Weekend, an event Dr Spear organised for many years and in which she managed to persuade numerous notable Shakespeare academics and scholars to participate.

During her career she also she wrote various articles, reviews and contributions to books and took part in several BBC radio broadcasts.

While at Dundee, she was particularly active in attracting students from overseas who found that her support was often vital to their success. Though she retired from her senior lectureship in 1993 and became an honorary research fellow, many of her students kept in touch.

In her active retirement she was chairwoman, for many years, of The Friends of Balgay, a community group which protects and promotes Dundee's Balgay park and hill, a much-loved open space near her home in the city's west end. She also researched and wrote a publication on its history.

"Hilda was the inspiration and driving force behind the Friends of Balgay that, since the mid-1990s, has worked tirelessly to enhance and protect Balgay Park, a key part of Dundee's heritage," said Dundee councillor Fraser Macpherson.

"Her enthusiasm for Balgay and the local community knew no bounds and she remained actively involved, despite her advancing years. The community in the west end of Dundee owes her a great debt of gratitude for all she did for Balgay over many years and we will all miss her dearly." Dr Spear, who was predeceased by her husband of 56 years, is survived by their daughters Gillian and Kathryn and grandchildren Jasmin, Reece and Caitlin.

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