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Kate Gross (1996), OBE, 10 July 1978 – 25 December 2014

Friday 16 January 2015

It is always a shock to learn of the death of a former student. Tutors do not expect to outlive their former charges, and Kate Gross was so memorable that seeing her graduate fifteen and a half years ago is today as if we saw her yesterday, and another essay might be expected next week.  We first learned of Kate’s illness in the summer of 2013 at a gathering with some members of that eminent English graduating class of 1999: there was quiet, very serious concern for her, and she was conspicuously absent.  Kate Gross made a big impact in the world: she found the drive, the vision and the means to make a difference, from the Prime Minister’s Office to being CEO of the Africa Governance Initiative.  Much has been said and more will be said of this in the weeks and months to come.  Tony Blair paid her this compliment when he said that she fashioned ‘an organisation that took a new and innovative approach to development and today is making change happen in many different African countries.’  She was a phenomenon, and taken from the world far too soon.

Kate had that drive when she first arrived at Keble in Michaelmas 1996.  She came from St. Laurence School, Bradford on Avon, where she was taught most effectively by Simon Mitchell, who had also read English at Keble, taking a first in 1983.  We remember her cheerful, engaging, enthusiastic presence, brimming with ideas and always ready to put a question.  She worked hard, and her best essays were, according to our late colleague Malcolm Parkes: ‘clear, full of penetrating insights, and well judged.’  You can read her passion and her sharp insights in her articles and blogs, and in her book just published, which is stirring awed admiration: Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life) (William Collins, 2015).  She was bright and that sunny friendliness worked in classes to encourage others, perhaps more shy, to speak.  She learned well how to parse an author, how to generate insight from analyzing textual detail carefully: that was her strength and it made her a professional. What a powerful writer she grew to be.  The year group was and remains some eighteen years later particularly well integrated, and Kate’s role in that group was notable, as much as she was also a force in the College more generally.  Sometimes the sheer presence of all her interests made it hard to deliver the best every time: we tutors feared the Keble Women’s Rugby Team for this reason.  Yet she finished with a most creditable first, and that resounding success was surely the harbinger of all that was to come.  Kate’s life was magnificent, no less so for the courage with which she faced her last two years.  Her memory will be precious to all of us and all our sincerest considerations and prayers at this time are with her husband Billy, her twin sons and her parents.

Ralph Hanna, Fellow and Tutor in English, 1997-2009.

Nigel Smith, Fellow and Tutor in English, 1986-1999.