A tribute to Ann Phillips, 1930-2023 

Ann Phillips

Ann Phillips, who is fondly remembered as a former Fellow and College Librarian at Newnham, passed away on 24 August. 

She had enjoyed a long and varied career at Newnham College, having originally joined as Principal’s Secretary in 1957. Ann studied at St Hilda’s College, Oxford and worked in publishing, including for Penguin and Cambridge University Press. She returned to publishing after her three-year spell as Principal’s Secretary, until asked to rejoin Newnham as a Tutor in 1966. So resumed what was to be her long and diverse career at the College.  

As well as a Fellow and Tutor of Clough Hall, she was initially Director of Studies in Theology. Her love of writing and publishing experience made her a great candidate when, four years later, she was asked to become College Librarian. 

A published poet, Ann was also author of several children’s books including The Multiplying Glass and The Peace Child. She chronicled the College’s early struggle for existence, and growth as it achieved recognition, in A Newnham Anthology. After retiring, she retained a close connection as College Archivist and was active in the Guild of Friends, including as Honorary Secretary. 

Fellow Emerita Dr Gillian Sutherland said: “Ann was a model Tutor of Clough Hall, wise, extremely knowledgeable about all that was happening, yet never obtruding. Ann’s work as author prepared her admirably for the work of compiling and editing A Newnham Anthology (1979, 1988), begun to celebrate the College’s 100th birthday in 1971. One of her triumphs was to evoke and publish in full a reminiscence which began, ‘I didn’t like Newnham …’   

“Beginning to think about an anthology for the College’s 150th anniversary, I went in some trepidation to talk to her about what and what not to do. She was enormously encouraging and helpful. When copies of Walking on the Grass, Dancing in the Corridors at last came, one of my first acts was to take one to her.” 

We have received many more tributes to Ann from fellow Newnhamites who remember her creativity, humour and kindness, alongside her commitment to the College. Extracts are included below. 

Former Senior Tutor Terri Apter wrote: “This is sad news. Ann Philips was my Tutor when I was a student at Newnham and I, like her other tutees, appreciated the good sense and calmness she offered us, along with her respect and patience. Later, as her colleague (which I felt she was even though by that time she was a Fellow Emerita), I had the opportunity to interact with her in different ways. I then learned about her individual creativity as a writer, her critical astuteness of children’s literature, and her skill as a poet. She was a deeply private person and relished solitude but was always ready to respond to others’ thoughts and needs.” 

Mary Stewart, a Life Member of High Table and former Newnham Fellow, as well as current Fellow of Robinson College, wrote to say: “I came to Newnham in 1967 as a very young College Lecturer in German (then Mary Cock), not yet having completed my Oxford D.Phil. I was excited but very nervous about joining and living in a new community. Many Fellows were friendly and welcoming, but Ann stands out in my memory: she was immediately warm, kind, and funny, explained many of Newnham’s individual quirks to me, was always ready with advice or information, and with her gentle humour made everything strange and new to me feel easy and unproblematic.  

“Very occasionally, when I was exploring the area in my little car, she would welcome me too at her cottage in Harlton, so that I began to get my bearings in every sense. I can still hear her gentle, humorous voice in my mind – and my happy memories of my years at Newnham always include her.” 

Claire Barlow, Fellow Emerita and Director of Studies in Engineering as well as Deputy Praelector wrote: “Ann was a constant presence in Newnham when I joined as a Research Fellow in 1980: always welcoming with a gentle sense of humour, knowledgeable and interesting to talk with, quietly helpful and tactful in initiating me into the ways of College. When I became a Tutor, I would often enjoy the benefits of her sharp observations and her pragmatic and humane approach, with underlying humour.  

“Ann struck me as very grounded, modest and understated. Although she was clearly a mainstay in College, she had an outside existence so there was nothing inward-looking or narrow about her. And at least part of that existence was her writing. I was pleased to be able to introduce her to word-processing, helping her to overcome the initial barriers and expand her horizons beyond the typewriter.” 

President of the Senior Combination Room, Jenny Mander said: “Ann was always a gentle and wise member of College. She used to look forward to the oasis of time between Christmas and the New Year when she had plenty of time alone to think about her writing.” 

Newnham Senior Tutor, Sheila Watts said she had read and enjoyed her books and added: “She was also a bright and lively conversationalist into old age.”