Obituary: Christine Temple, emeritus professor of psychology.

Prof Christine Temple: St Andrews graduate who, at 33, became the UK's youngest professor of psychology
Prof Christine Temple: St Andrews graduate who, at 33, became the UK's youngest professor of psychology
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Born: 9 July, 1958, in Glasgow. Died: 22 October, 2014, in Colchester, aged 56

Christine Temple was an inspiring academic whose internationally renowned work led to the emergence of the field of developmental cognitive neuropsychology.

A first-class honours graduate of St Andrews, she acquired a masters degree in California where she worked with injured war veterans, completed her doctoral studies at Oxford and went on to establish a specialist unit in her discipline at the University of London. At 33 she became the UK’s youngest professor of psychology.

Latterly, her passion for the visual, performance and musical arts – engendered by her love of the Edinburgh Festival – fuelled her interest in creativity and the interface of science and the arts, resulting in her book Picasso’s Brain, examining some of the world’s most creative minds.

Along with her academic work she was also a skilled administrator, as a pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Essex where she had been a huge influence for 23 years, and a non-executive director of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust. She also combined her roles as an academic and administrator with that of mother to her two teenage sons.

Though Glasgow-born she grew up in Edinburgh where her father Robert S Temple was financial director of the Distillers Company Ltd. However, there was already a distinguished scientific heritage in the family: her great-grandfather had been an accomplished doctor and surgeon and a great aunt had graduated in mathematics from Edinburgh University in 1916.

Young Christine, who was educated at the capital’s Mary Erskine School for Girls, continued that legacy of academic excellence and went on to study psychology at St Andrews University, where she worked with her first cases of unusual brain development.

There she won a scholarship, under the Education Abroad Programme, to the University of California in Los Angeles where she gained an MA in cognitive psychology and, in addition to the war wounded, also worked with so-called split brain patients who had undergone surgery as an epilepsy treatment.

She returned to the UK to do her PhD at Oxford, and her research gained immediate prominence on the international stage. Her supervisor had previously produced ground-breaking research on the reading ability of people who had become dyslexic after a brain injury. Temple wrote a series of papers showing that those with developmental dyslexia could suffer impairments that were as selective as those seen in cases of acquired dyslexia.

She had also studied pure mathematics during her time at St Andrews and went on to expand her work into areas including children’s arithmetical disorders.

She pioneered the use of single case studies in the investigation of developmental disorders and was instrumental in defining the area of research known as developmental cognitive neuropsychology, publishing a monograph on the subject in 1997.

She was a lecturer, then senior lecturer and subsequently a reader in neuropsychology at the Royal Holloway, University of London, where she established the Developmental Neuropsychology Unit, working with children with dyslexia, language disorders, face recognition problems, memory difficulties and autism as well as with children and adults with unusual talents. And she became the youngest psychology professor in the UK when she was appointed to the Foundation Chair of Psychology at the University of Essex in 1991.

Two years later she published the book The Brain, an introduction to the psychology of the human brain and behaviour. She went on to serve as a pro vice-chancellor (PVC) of the university for six years, joining the senior management team in 2004 at a time of great changes for the institution and proving an outstanding, analytical decision-maker, deeply committed to the concept of the university as an academic-led institution.

Having initially been PVC (Resources) she later took on responsibility for leading the new faculty of Science and Engineering and, as a member of the university’s Research Strategy Committee, she played a vital role in securing the institution a ranking of ninth out of 150 in the UK’s 2007 Research Assessment Exercise.

She was a keen art collector, particularly of Picasso prints, and her book Picasso’s Brain, an examination of how creative genius works, which she completed shortly before her death, is due to be published in February.

She retired through ill health in the summer and those who worked with her acknowledge her exceptional intellectual abilities, shrewdness, kindness and genuine interest in people as much as the job. She was also an excellent female role model: clever and stylish, a hard working and successful academic and mother.

Tenacious, determined and good fun, she believed in putting a positive spin on life’s events whenever possible and in dressing up rather than down – an attitude that enhanced even the most dull university event and which defined the hallmark radiance that she displayed to the end.

Professor Temple is survived by her sons Alexander and Nicholas, her mother Diane and brothers James and Robert.