Obituary: Kate Durie, an academic who shared a love of the English language and literature

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Kate Durie’s association with the OU spanned more than 30 years

Kate Durie lived and breathed everything deep and entertaining in the English language and literature, and passed her deep knowledge and understanding through lectures and tutoring, as well as through informal church and community-based groups.

Growing up in Barnsley, Yorkshire, she excelled in high school, Wilthrope Primary and then Barnsley High School.

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With a mother teaching English, it was natural for her to study this subject at Kent University. She achieved a First Class Honors Degree and then successfully completed a Masters in Philosophy at Somerville College, Oxford University. Her dissertation was on Victorian novelist Charlotte Yonge, who, although barely read, was both productive and respected by the great writers of her day. Kate could see talent.

However, she was not a fan of ivory towers and enjoyed the opportunity to teach at Aberdeen University in 1979. with students from different backgrounds.

In Aberdeen she met Alistair – a Scot from Edinburgh and lecturer in economic history. As a tutor at the Open University, she had the flexibility she needed to raise two children. Son Rick was born in 1979 and daughter Ruth in 1977.

In Aberdeen, she showed her comic and creative talent by writing dramatic sketches that were performed at the Crown Terrace Baptist Church, where she and Alistair were both preachers and deacons. Particularly memorable was a greasy Del Boy character played by one of the most sincere members of the Church.

The flexibility of home tutoring at the Open University came in handy when Alistair took up a position at Glasgow University in 1989 and they moved to Stirling.

Kate was able to teach a number of units within a liaison with the OU that spanned over 30 years. She has taught courses on Shakespeare and Victorian literature, among other things. She studied art history and taught Byzantine art and the Northern and Italian Renaissance.

She was known for her inclusive approach to education and the encouragement she gave to students from previously non-academic backgrounds. As one student said: “She never told me that I write badly: she always showed me how to write better.”

While living in Stirling, she transformed her natural traits of empathy and the ability to listen as a counselor for a funeral service.

But she had her own troubles. The couple had to deal with Alistair’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. They eventually separated, and in 2013 Kate moved to Edinburgh. She was friends with Alistair and spoke to him on the phone almost every day until his death in 2017.

Kate enjoyed the cultural offerings Edinburgh had to offer in the fields of visual arts, drama and architectural heritage. On an open day, she visited 16 attractions and showed off her knowledge of the private lives – and scandals – of artists, poets and architects.

She was never dogmatic about her Christian faith, but rather explored its meaning – and maintained close ties with churches that valued the opportunities they offered for making friends and exploring common interests. In Stirling she joined the Church of Scotland and in Edinburgh she joined a Scottish Episcopalian Church.

When she first settled in Morningside, Edinburgh, it was in an apartment on the top floor, but as her illness progressed she moved to a nearby apartment on the first floor. She had frequent falls with one foot dropped and it was not long before she was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. However, a motorized wheelchair gave her some of her mobility back and she was still able to take part in book groups and other activities in local centers.

With their in-depth knowledge and expertise, book groups valued their membership.

Up to a few weeks before her death at Edinburgh’s Marie Curie’s Hospice, Kate was a leader in Christ Church Morningside’s book group, which shared interests and enthusiasm online during these pandemic times.

Kate leaves behind her daughter Ruth, son Alex and brother Rick.

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