Obituary: Kate Durie, academic who shared her love of English language and literature

Kate Durie, academic. Born 26 March, 1950 in Barnsley, Yorkshire. Died: 9 October, 2021 in Edinburgh aged 71 years
Kate Durie’s association with the OU spanned more than 30 yearsKate Durie’s association with the OU spanned more than 30 years
Kate Durie’s association with the OU spanned more than 30 years

Kate Durie lived and breathed all things profound as well as entertaining in English language and literature, passing on her deep knowledge and understanding through lecturing and tutoring posts and through informal church and community based groups.

Raised in Barnsley in Yorkshire she excelled at school, at Wilthrope Primary then at Barnsley High school.

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With a mother as an English teacher it was a natural progression for her to go on to study the subject at Kent University. She achieved a First Class Honours Degree and thereafter successfully worked towards a Masters in Philosophy at Oxford University’s Somerville College. Her thesis was on the Victorian novelist Charlotte Yonge who, although now little read, was both prolific and well respected by the great writers of her time. Kate could spot talent.

She was however no fan of ivory towers and relished the opportunity in 1979 to work as a lecturer at Aberdeen University. with students from a wide range of backgrounds.

It was in Aberdeen that she met and married Alistair – a Scotsman from Edinburgh and a lecturer in Economic History. Becoming a tutor with the Open University afforded her the flexibility she needed to raise two children. son Rick being born in 1979 and daughter Ruth in 1977.

In Aberdeen she displayed her comic and creative talents by writing dramatic sketches which were performed in Crown Terrace Baptist Church where she and Alistair were both preachers and deacons. Particularly memorable was a sleazy Del Boy character which was performed by one of the church’s most upstanding members.

The flexibility of home-based tutoring with the Open University held her in good stead when in 1989 Alistair took up a post at Glasgow University and they went to live in Stirling.

Kate was able to continue teaching a range of units within what became an association with the OU spanning over 30 years. Courses she taught included those on Shakespeare and on Victorian literature. She ably took on board art history, tutoring in Byzantine Art and the Northern and Italian Renaissance.

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

Whilst living in Stirling she turned her natural attributes of empathy and the ability to listen to being a counsellor for a bereavement service.

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But she had her own difficulties. The couple had to cope with Alistair’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. They eventually parted company and in 2013 Kate moved to Edinburgh. She maintained a friendship with Alistair, talking with him on a near daily basis on the phone until his death in 2017.

Kate relished the cultural offerings Edinburgh had to offer in the visual arts, drama and built heritage. On one Doors Open Day she visited 16 places of interest displaying her knowledge of the personal lives – and scandals – of artists, poets and architects.

She was never dogmatic about her Christian faith, rather she explored its meaning – and maintained a close affinity with churches valuing the opportunities they provided to form friendships and explore mutual interests. In Stirling she joined the Church of Scotland and when in Edinburgh joined a Scottish Episcopalian Church.

When she first settled in Morningside, Edinburgh it was in a top floor flat but as her illness progressed she moved into a nearby ground floor flat. With a dropped foot she had frequent falls and it was not long before she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. A motorised wheelchair gave her back some of her mobility, though, and she was still able to attend book groups and other activities in local centres.

With her depth of knowledge and expertise book groups appreciated having her as a member.

Right up to a couple of weeks before her death in Edinburgh’s Marie Curie’s Hospice Kate was a leading light in Christ Church Morningside’s book group, where interests and enthusiasms were, in these pandemic times, shared online.

Kate is survived by her daughter Ruth, son Alex and her brother Rick.


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