Linguistics teacher

Linguistics teacher

Born: March 24, 1935; Died: June 13, 2014.

LADY Florence Davies, who has died at the age of 79, was a much-loved linguistics teacher at the University of Glasgow as well as a course organiser for the British Council, the UK's internationally-active organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations.

Linguistics is not just the speaking of languages. Lady Davies was an expert in how they developed, how they change lives, politics, social relations and more. As a senior research fellow in the University of Glasgow's Department of English Language, she was acutely aware that language is a key to solving most of the world's problems.

But she was far more than a linguist and a teacher. Staff at Glasgow who worked with her, from cleaners to senior academics, virtually all used the same phrase: "Just a wonderful lady, a joy."

Applied Linguistics was Lady Davies' specialism. It seeks to show how the use of language, from the earliest days of mankind, shaped the world, how we communicate or how we do not. At the University of Glasgow, she became not only a popular lecturer and tutor but someone to whom young students went to seek wisdom when their studies had been derailed, often for family reasons.

Most of her students did not know that her husband was Sir Graeme Davies, who was principal and vice-chancellor of the university from 1995-2003. He was knighted in 1996, giving Florence the title Lady Davies, but he remained Graeme to his students and she remained Florence until she retired in 2000 to concentrate on her third love, after her students and her family - her stunning gardens in Coulter, South Lanarkshire.

By then, she had run courses for the British Council around the world, notably in Brazil, a country close to her and her husband's heart. In the words of her first-ever PhD student, Dr Nicki Hedge, now director of Learning Innovation at the University of Glasgow: "If Flo did something, she did it absolutely properly. She had a special skill at welcoming newcomers to the university. Students from all over the world felt cared for, intellectually and personally, by Flo. She had a capacity to bring the very best out of people, students and staff alike.

"For many of us fortunate to have been Flo's colleagues and/or students, she always expected more of us than we thought we could deliver. With Flo, we worked, we played, we laughed and we learned that it was right to care with a passion for learning, for teaching and for our students and colleagues."

Florence Isabelle Martin was born in Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, on March 24, 1935. She attended Whangarei Girls' High School and Ardmore Teachers' Training College near Auckland, where she met Graeme in 1958 and married him the following year, before both moved to the UK to study at Cambridge in 1962. Sir Graeme was essentially an expert in engineering and metallurgy.

Lady Davies would later become a lecturer in linguistics at the universities of Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol. When her husband was appointed as principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow in 1995, the couple moved north to the country they would come to love. Lady Davies became senior research fellow in the Department of English Language.

The couple first lived in the university principal's lodging - 12 The Square, in the heart of the campus at Gilmorehill - but in February 1998 they bought a house at Coulter Mains, near Biggar, where Lady Davies created gardens that would become known not only locally but to green-fingered connoisseurs across the British Isles and beyond. The house dated from the 15th century, with a view over the River Clyde, ornate ceilings, plasterwork and panelling and a stone sea lion on the lawn.

The couple first created a comfortable home before Lady Davies, just before Christmas 1998, turned her attention to the grounds. "There was no garden at all except for clumps of 100-year-old rhododendrons," she recalled. "Our first job was to remove them. It took three men and a digger a week."

She then set about creating gardens to fit the lowland Scottish landscape but with influences from elsewhere, including the Mediterranean and her native New Zealand. Writing for The Herald in 2001, garden expert Douglas Carr described it as "a paradise for all seasons ... a magical garden. (Sir Graeme and Lady Davies) have liberated the site deep in the lush South Lanarkshire landscape from the oppressive tyranny of rhododendrons, heather and conifers that provide the unimaginative background for so many Scottish mansions ... the effect, evoking the spirit of Provence, is striking.

"The design of the garden is very much Lady Davies' vision," Carr went on. "And she is a knowledgeable and talented plantswoman with the energy and determination to translate her ideas into reality. One of the many highlights is the elegant and restful pool garden, executed in the French manner."

Sir Graeme and Lady Davies eventually moved to Coulter full-time after Lady Davies' retirement in 2000 and Sir Graeme's three years later. But after their daughter became ill, they moved south to Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire in 2008 to be close to her. "That was the nature of the lady," a close friend from the University of Glasgow told The Herald. "She loved her gardens. But she loved her daughter more."

Sir Graeme and Lady Davies also maintained a consultancy firm, Graeme Ventures, based in the C'A'Doro building on the corner of Gordon Street and Union Street in Glasgow. In retirement, Lady Davies enjoyed water-colour painting and bird-watching with Sir Graeme.

Lady Florence Davies died peacefully at home. She is survived by her husband Sir Graeme, their son Michael and daughter Helena and five grandchildren, Louis, Charlotte, Max, Annabelle and Georgia.

A celebration of her life will be held in one of her beloved gardens later in the summer.