Born: August 9, 1940;

Died: October 29, 2021.

ANGUS J. Kennedy, late Stevenson Professor of French at the University of Glasgow, who has died aged 81, was an inspiring teacher and much-valued university administrator.

A scholar universally respected in his field of research, his towering contribution was recognized by the French government, with a prestigious award for services to culture, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, and with its highest educational distinction, Commandeur des Palmes académiques.

In his field of mediaeval French studies, the name of Angus J. Kennedy will always be synonymous with the highest scholarly achievement.

After working in Arthurian literature, in 1977 he, with Kenneth Varty, made available in English the only poem on Joan of Arc written during her lifetime. From that time on, he devoted most of his critical work to the poem’s author, Christine de Pizan, the late mediaeval creative writer and essayist, advocate extraordinary of the cause of women, and of France during the perilous Hundred Years’ War.

He did much to consolidate her present eminent place in the canon of French literature. By the early seventies, ‘Christine studies’ were a growth industry but the research workshop lacked many tools. He provided many of the most essential: bibliographies, editions, and translations, together with commentaries and reviews that are models of critical acumen.

Never a slave to any particular theory or academic fashion, he delivered his judgements only after painstaking research and a meticulous appraisal of the evidence, yet without losing sight of the bigger picture.

His achievement was saluted in 2000, when colleagues from around the world combined to bring out an influential book of essays in his honour. He was the scholar’s scholar.

He worked to the very end, too. His last research project, an annotated translation of Christine’s Book of the Body Politic, was finally completed only in July, when he was already quite ill. The book was delivered to him in mid-October, to his great joy. Sadly, he died on the 29th of the month.

Angus Johnston Kennedy was born in 1940 in Port Charlotte, on Islay. In 1958, upon leaving Bearsden Academy, he went up to Glasgow University, where his degree course included a year in Versailles and a term in Freiburg. In 1963 he was awarded an M.A. with first-class honours in French and German.

Following two years of doctoral research in Paris, in 1965 he joined the staff of his old university, where he quietly mounted the steps to full Professor, retiring in 2000.

While teaching a wide variety of courses at every level, in language and literature, he was also asked to undertake an increasing number of administrative duties.

For many years heading what was the UK’s biggest French department, he served on countless university committees, and became a Senate Assessor on the University Court, part of that small cabinet which, with the Principal, effectively runs the University.

His typically modest reluctance to seek any position for himself did not prevent people from outside the university noting with admiration his intelligence, attentiveness to detail, care, and patience. Unsurprisingly, therefore, he was heavily in demand, as external examiner, assessor, board member, consultant, reader or reviewer, or indeed, as President of the Glasgow Alliance Française.

Though Angus had a great respect for the value and importance of this administrative work, he saw it simply as a duty of service. Throughout his distinguished career he remained true to his first vocation, as teacher and scholar.

Even when immersed in the most specialised of research projects, he was always delighted to discuss a difficult problem of grammar or vocabulary. Mediaevalist though he was, one of his favourite books was Candide, Voltaire’s satirical manifesto for tolerance.

Whatever important position he was asked to occupy in the university or beyond, he knew that his primary role was to develop the critical abilities of his students, to nourish their minds, and, always, to listen to them.

“What is more beautiful than learning?” The implicit answer to Christine’s rhetorical question is refuted by his own life. Immensely learned though he was, for him nothing was more beautiful than the love of his wife Marjory, his daughters Marjory-Anne and Fiona, and his grandchildren Aidan and Rowan. Not to speak of his beautiful island of Islay, which remained close to his heart, as indeed did his beloved Scotland, its Celtic inheritance, and its freedom to decide its own destiny.

“What is more beautiful than learning?” To that question another response is the scholar himself, that exceptional human being, a rock of integrity and beacon of tolerance.

His own life was not always easy. At the age of two he lost the sight of his left eye in an accident: he spent months in a military hospital accompanied only by badly-wounded soldiers, and endured multiple operations until his late teens. Of this trauma he tried not to speak.

Something of the man, and of his own deep but discreet faith, shines out in the heartbreaking message he sent on February 16 this year, when, exceptionally, he spoke of himself: “Bad news. I have a cancer that can’t really be treated. Prognosis is months. Bit of a downer that I really was not expecting. Christine reminds us that we can meet the twists and turns of Fortune through stoical resolve. That was her position in 1407. By 1422 she goes beyond this, saying the only remedy is faith in divine providence. She seems to have anticipated my own itinerary 600 years ago. Maybe that is why I like her so much”.

Almost fifty years ago, a university colleague said, jokingly, ‘Angus? He’s a saint.’ Many a true word.

John Campbell, Emeritus Professor of French, University of Glasgow