A Celebration for the Life and Work of Professor Jane Moody

Posted on 19 March 2012

On Friday 9th March 2012, Jane Moody’s family, friends, colleagues and students came together to commemorate and celebrate Jane’s life and work.

The day had been planned as a close collaboration between the University of York, Jane’s husband Professor Greg Kucich, her parents David and Sue Moody and York Minster.  In the morning, there was a Service of Thanksgiving in York Minster; in the afternoon a series of commemorative events in the University of York’s Humanities Research Centre of which Jane was founding Director.  The photo gallery on the right hand side of this page provides sample images from the afternoon. 

The Service of Thanksgiving in York Minster was beautiful: uplifting, dignified and affecting. The music was provided by organist Lee Dunleavy and the Vale of York Voices (with whom Jane herself had sung) under the direction of Professor David Howard. Jane’s sister Helen Moody played before the service and interjected exquisite oboe obbligati as accompaniment to the Chorales.

Readings were taken from The Book of Proverbs (about wisdom and delight), from W.H.Murray’s The Scottish Himalayan as adapted from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust Part One (about boldness, dreaming and commitment to pursuing one’s ideas) and from Jane’s own scholarly monograph Illegitimate Theatre in London 1770-1840 (about the collective hilarity that acts of illegitimate theatre can release, and about the meaning and consequence of cultural democracy).

Sinéad Smith, Jane’s friend from Oxford days, gave the first tribute testifying powerfully to Jane’s love of family and friendship, her generosity and graciousness, her love of flamboyance and theatre, her tremendous capacity to concentrate on people making them feel special and how her advice and friendship remains with those whom she loved.

Professor Jeffrey Cox, distinguished Professor of English from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and long-term friend of both Jane and Greg, gave the second tribute. Jane’s calibre as a scholar of theatre history was appreciatively evoked as were the exacting standards Jane could set for others. Professor Cox reported with great warmth how his own work had once been treated with admirable despatch by Jane when his scholarship was thought to have fallen short.  His deep admiration for Jane’s imaginative and uncompromising scholarship was richly in evidence throughout his talk.

Professor Felicity Riddy, previous Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, gave the third tribute, reporting on the considerable impact Jane had had on the York English Department on arrival from Cambridge, of her meteoric rise to a personal chair, her investment in community, her impressive research leadership and her outstanding performance as the founding Director of the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York.

Prayers were led, with a sensitive understanding of the rich contribution Jane made to the individual and collective lives of those who knew her, by the Reverend Sharon Whittington and the Reverend Canon Peter Moger, Precentor of York Minster. 

The service overall was a fitting tribute to Jane who herself so loved good music, aptly chosen words, laughter, community, beautiful spaces, ceremony and a real sense of occasion.

After the Minster Service, the congregation retired to King’s Manor for tea and cakes.

In the afternoon, the Humanities Research Centre in the Berrick Saul Building welcomed the community into its beautiful building in whose design and planning Jane had herself had such an influential hand.  The collective project was to look back with gratitude and to look forward with a renewed sense of commission.  An exhibition of research and research activities from across the arts and humanities had been mounted in the Treehouse, showcasing the variety and depth of the academic world which formed Jane’s own intellectual home. As part of this exhibition, a table in the Treehouse was devoted to displaying Jane’s own publications, posters from seminars and public lectures she had given, Festival of Ideas materials and the Humanities Research Centre purple bags from which Jane herself derived so much pleasure.

The Jane Moody Memorial Debate focused the question that had been animating Jane’s own intellectual life most markedly in the past couple of years: ‘What public value the arts and humanities?’  As part of Jane’s intellectual legacy in the community, this question was taken on in highly engaging ways for a mixed academic and non-academic audience in short talks given by Professor Miles Taylor (Director of the Institute of Historical Research), Professor Sally Shuttleworth (Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and Head of the Humanities Division 2005-2011) and Professor Peter Holland (McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies and Associate Dean for the Arts at the University of Notre Dame).   All three spoke in ways that connected their research work with questions of value and relevance, relating past to present, connecting debates about value, anxiety and purpose from prior moments with highly topical currents, and punctuated throughout by fun and lively illustration.  The debate was chaired by Professor Mark Ormrod, York’s Academic Co-ordinator for the Arts and Humanities.  Questions from the floor included one from Claire McDonald inviting the community to reflect upon the transformative quality of the arts and humanities in our individual and collective lives. It is, rightly, an invitation that continues to resonate.

Following the debate, short personal memories of Jane were shared by seven members of the university community:  Joan Concannon (Director of External Relations), Dr Helen Smith (Department of English), Dr Claire Wood (who, as a doctoral student, had led the Sensory Stories initiative), Dr Jason Scott-Warren (formerly of York’s Department of English, now of the University of Cambridge), Dr Richard Ogden (former Head of Department of Language and Linguistics), Professor Tom Stoneham (Head of Department of Philosophy) and Kate Compton (Jane’s PhD student). Subjects covered with twinkly warmth included Jane’s taste for beautiful shoes, her passionate support for female academics, her expert eye in relation to relative property values, her desire to cut through academic waffle, her warmth with children, her aptitude for accessorising, her generosity with her own time, her liberality with compliments, advice and suggestions for improvement, her striking grace under pressure and her conscious decision to treat every idea passed her way as a gift that should be appropriately honoured.

Professor Judith Buchanan (Humanities Research Centre) closed the formal proceedings in the Bowland Auditorium with an announcement about the Jane Moody Scholarship Fund, set up in Jane’s honour and bearing her name, to support the best and brightest doctoral students in their final year of study.  (Details about the fund can be found at http://www.york.ac.uk/janes-fund/.)

In the Berrick Saul Building Foyer, Professor Trevor Sheldon gave a short speech to announce the dedication of The Jane Moody Boardroom as a space that would hereafter be permanently inscribed in memory of Jane, jointly honouring her investment in the building, love of teaching and taste for crisp decision-making. Jane’s husband Greg and nephew Jake together unveiled the plaque for the Jane Moody Boardroom.   Professor Sheldon then proposed a rousing toast to Jane and the community responded with collective gusto.

It was a lively, varied and a deeply touching day, which included much laughter as well as deep sadness, and an impressive array of cheering purple outfits and purple accessories as a fun collective tribute to Jane who had made the colour all her own. It was, as had all along been hoped, a day free of any hint of sentimentality or maudlin indulgence (with which Jane herself would, as all who knew her recognise, have had no truck).  Perhaps the most uplifting thing about the day as a whole was the near-tangible tide of collective affection from the community that was so abundantly in evidence. 

The buzz on Twitter, email and through other channels the next day captured a sense of having been re-inspired to work, to pursue dreams with renewed resolution and to think anew about academia’s involvement in its wider communities.   Comments from the community included: ‘a superb day, deeply sad but hugely positive’; ‘Yesterday's celebration of the life of Professor Jane Moody was perfect. Lively debate on the humanities, personal memories, cake’; ‘I think Jane showed me that academia and the wider world are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive domains’; ‘Lively debate on the value of the humanities, a range of touching personal memories, exquisite cakes and plenty of purple: the celebration of Jane’s life was a perfect tribute to her intellectual energy, personal spirit and lifelong commitment to the arts.’

Video gallery

Click here to view videos of the day

Photo gallery

Click on any image to enlarge

Photos by Ian Martindale http://www.ianmartindale.co.uk