My wife and I met at the University of Liverpool as Philosophy undergrads and, as we very occasionally do, we were reminiscing about our uni days over the weekend.
Last year I was asked by the University’s careers department (with whom I’ve done a few events in the last couple of years) to speak to some Philosophy undergrads at a careers event. The irony of me, who’d had absolutely no idea what he’d wanted to do when he left uni, giving advice to a bunch of undergrads about finding meaningful work post-uni was not lost on me. I felt instantly melancholic (for my long departed teenage years) and excited at the same time when I walked back into the very lecture room where I’d had most of my lectures and, in fact, where the now-Mrs S and I first met… I had a flashback to a very strong memory of us co-delivering a lecture on Feminist Aesthetics in the very spot I was about to talk from: probably the first of many “projects” (in the broadest sense!) we’ve worked together on since.
Some time before I came back to talk to the undergrads, the tutor for whom we gave that lecture, Dr Gill Howie, had been made Head of Department. She’d had a reputation for being slightly aloof amongst the students at the time I was an undergrad but, partly through working with her on this lecture, we discovered she was actually genuine, warm and very passionate about her subject. She became a reference point for Mrs S and I so that whenever we saw any issues to do with Feminist Aesthetics – and yes, there are many in everyday life, believe it or not – we’d turn to each other and say “What would Gill make of that?!”
I wondered aloud how her Head of Department-ship was going and, of course, immediately hit Google to find out, half-expecting to discover she’d been made a Professor already. I was completely shocked to see one of the top results was “Gill Howie obituary”. I clicked hesitantly on the link and it was undoubtedly “our” Gill Howie – the picture made it undeniable.
I’m not going to pretend that Gill had a massive transformational effect on my life: as far as I know (bearing in mind the Butterfly Effect of course) she didn’t alter radically its path, nor did she personally introduce me to my future wife. But she did play a role at a critical time for me and has been referred to ever since. You sort of expect that she’ll always be there in the background and finding out she isn’t in such, well, what I can only describe as “2014” circumstances seemed even more shocking.
It wasn’t my intention to write a mawkish, miserable blog from this experience: far from it. Neither did I want to make a trite “you never know the moment” point (although the longer I live , the more I realise that as naff as it sounds, it is certainly the case). No, I wanted to mark the passing of someone who had a fleeting – and largely unknowing – impact on my life. And remind you (and me) that we all have that capability every single day – and we should use it to make a positive impact wherever we can.