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News > Family Announcements > Remembered with Affection - Elizabeth Duff (Former Maths Teacher)

Remembered with Affection - Elizabeth Duff (Former Maths Teacher)

Obituary published in OGA Chain magazine 2020
Obituary published in OGA Chain magazine 2020

20 May 1923 - 13 Aug 2020

Elizabeth Duff taught mathematics at St Swithun’s for 16 years. Former pupils will remember her for supporting and encouraging those who didn’t enjoy the subject and guiding others who went on to take maths at a higher level. Giving others the same joy in her subject was one of her greatest pleasures. They may also remember her for a significant role in the annual school cruise on which she took a party of St Swithun’s girls each year.

But many will know nothing of her rather extraordinary early years, nor of her time after retirement. Both are as vibrant as her teaching career. 

Elizabeth (known for most of her life as Betty) was always a bright child with an aptitude for maths. She was offered a place at Girton College, Cambridge during the war but instead took a place at Westfield College, London (because that College was being evacuated to Oxford and her father had forbidden her from going to Oxford!)

During the war young men were allowed only one year to complete a degree and women two before being called up, but rare application from a college’s head for a student of exceptional talent could allow a third year. Elizabeth was the only student in her year at Westfield to be recommended by Westfield’s Principal and graduated in 1944 with a first class degree.

After university Elizabeth was interviewed for war service and she was selected for Farnborough RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) where she spent two years until 1946. Her role was in mathematical modelling and analysis of test aircraft.

She worked in a close-knit small group of mathematicians and test pilots, some of whom remained friends into old age. One of the test pilots flew the first helicopter brought over by the American Air Force and he took her up in it making her the first woman in Britain to  fly in a helicopter.

In 1946 she moved to Kenya where her father was a bishop in the diocese of Mombasa. Until her marriage to Patrick in 1950 she worked as a statistician for the government in Nairobi. After the birth of her two daughters she started teaching and continued teaching in Tanzania until 1963 when the family returned to the UK following its independence.

Always interested in people, Elizabeth loved to talk and could work a room like no other. She learned to email aged 80 and kept in touch when increasing deafness made phone conversation impossible.

She travelled extensively until her early nineties including the Trans-Siberian railway, Japan, Namibia, New Zealand, Chile and Antarctica.

In her final months, she counted herself so lucky to have a former St Swithun’s pupil as her GP. With her help she was able to stay at home and died peacefully in her own flat with four members of her family by her side.

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