Dame Rosemary Murray, first woman Vice-Chancellor of the University and founder of New Hall died peacefully yesterday (7 October 2004) in Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, aged 91.

Dame Rosemary was born in 1913 and educated at Downe House and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she studied Chemistry. She always had a genius for focusing on the essentials and turning her hand to anything, fostered by her father's early lessons in carpentry, and a passion for small boats.

After Oxford she taught Chemistry for a time at what was then Royal Holloway College and Sheffield University, before joining the Admiralty Signals Department on the outbreak of the Second World War. She then enlisted in the WRNS as a rating, being promoted rapidly to become an officer. After the war she moved to Girton College and became a Demonstrator in Chemistry. When women at Cambridge University achieved full degree status in 1948 she began to take an active part in the meetings of the 'Third Foundation for Women'.

It was in 1954 that she founded New Hall. It became the 'Third Foundation' for women students at Cambridge University at a time when Cambridge had the lowest proportion of women undergraduates of any university in the UK.

The first 16 students admitted to New Hall in 1954 were housed in the College's first, temporary home on Silver Street where Darwin College now stands. The growth in student numbers was slow, limited for the first ten years by the accommodation available, but the College was from the beginning seeking more endowments to enable it to become permanently established on its own site. By 1962, thanks to the generosity of members of the Darwin family who gave their family home, the Orchard, the College had its site. Building began in 1964.

1964 was also the year that Dame Rosemary became President of the College, having been its Tutor in Charge since its birth ten years earlier. She remained President until retiring from the position in 1981, having steered New Hall through its first 17 years and ensured its future well-being. She continued as an Honorary Fellow.

In 1975, Dame Rosemary Murray became the first woman Vice-Chancellor in the University's 765-year history. Up until relatively recently, the Vice-Chancellor was elected by the University from among the heads of the Colleges. With typical ingenuity, as well as her sense of the proper dignity of the Office, she devised her own version of the cassock to suit a female Vice-Chancellor, and last year passed on the pattern to Professor Richard.

She was not only the first woman, but the first Vice-Chancellor from a 20th century college, and the first to establish the Vice-Chancellor's place in the Old Schools, creating an office from what was then a corridor by bringing in her own tools and installing the necessary locks herself.

But she was not just a University figure - she played a major role in the life of the City and County, spending 30 years as a JP in Cambridge and becoming the first woman to be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County. Her public service also included membership of the Wages Council and the Armed Services Pay Review Body. She was a Director of the Midland Bank and The Observer, and a Liveryman of the Goldsmith's Company at a time when very few women held such roles, and received honorary degrees from universities in Britain and America.

Even in late retirement she continued to bind books for New Hall Library, to help children at the local Oxford Middle School with reading practice and to tend her garden with evident delight.

Almost her last outing to London was to Chelsea Flower Show in June this year for the launch of the rose that bears her name. She also attended the College Benefactors' Feast, to thank those colleges, St John's, Trinity, and Clare, which had helped New Hall into existence 50 years ago.

Professor Alison Richard, Vice-Chancellor, paid tribute to Dame Rosemary:

"I was very saddened to learn of Dame Rosemary's death yesterday. She was a fine academic and administrator, and, above all, a remarkable human being. The sadness is tempered by the fact that she did so much to change the landscape of this Institution for the better."

"Dame Rosemary Murray has not only left behind physical reminders of her contribution to Cambridge, her legacy is the countless people throughout the world who have been inspired and influenced by her knowledge, insight and overriding warmth."

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