Great Britain’s Leading Educator: Lady Pauline Perry
A common complaint amongst women is that the seemingly insurmountable obstacle to a successful career is being a wife and mother to several children. Yet the path taken by Great Britain’s leading authority on Education issues (and women’s issues), the Right Honorable Baroness Perry of Southwark, is a most unusual one and perhaps an inspiration for aspiring women. If this story were to have a subtitle, it might well have that of the song cycle by Robert Schumann, nineteenth-century romantic composer, “The Love and Life of a Woman”, (“Frauenliebe und Leben”).
In 1946, when Pauline was 15 years old, her mother, a teacher, had advised her to drop by the school and take a look at one of her colleague teachers, because he looked exactly like Pauline’s heartthrob, the film star, Leslie Howard. Her affection for Leslie Howard inexorably shifted to 29-year-old George Perry. After his discharge from the army, and six weeks after her graduation from Cambridge University in 1952, they married.
After a honeymoon in Paris, George’s work as University professor took them to far away places: Seattle Washington, Winnipeg Manitoba and Massachusetts. Together they raised their four children while she continued her own education and began a breath-taking scope of intellectual activities. She was a freelance journalist, she broadcast for radio and television, wrote a weekly column for the Oxford Mail, and became a lecturer in French and in Philosophy. It was during these years she learned the necessary skill of budgeting time, which she would need later in her demanding work.
As George began his own retirement at age 61 and the children were older, Pauline began her own work more energetically. She gives credit to her husband’s love and encouragement and as he said, he was happy that he could now help her in her work, as she had helped him in his. She also gives unqualified recognition to the community and friendship of women throughout her life in providing support and foundation.
By the time she and the family returned to England in 1970, she was invited to join Her Majesty’s Inspectorate in the Department of Education and Science. Eleven years later she was Chief Inspector for higher Education. In 1987 she became Vice Chancellor (President) of Southbank University in London and in 1994, President of Lucy Cavendish College of Cambridge University. In 2001 she became pro-Chancellor of the University of Surry. Today, as she sits in the House of Lords, she is seen as the authority on matters of education.
Pauline Perry is a diminutive woman with a charming, petite build and eyes that cast warmth and love when she smiles. Sitting and enjoying a quiet chat with her, one sees a dream-like glow about her as she talks about her husband and their love story of 56 happy years together. Sadly George Perry passed away in London in 2008 after a long illness. She reveals that his last touching words to her were: “You are my magic.” which continues the enviable love story.
Today emerging from recent emotional loss, she is at peace with herself and continues with the work in higher education and women’s issues.
Her curriculum vita is massive and awesome. Besides holding a multitude of titles, chairmanships and memberships, her writings can be found in such books as Creative Church Leadership, Against the Tide: Women Leaders in the USA and Britain, The Future of Higher Education, School Inspection and her particularly fascinating look at the often-complex relationships between mothers and daughters, The Womb in Which I Lay.
To reflect on Lady Pauline Perry’s story is to verify the modern notion that it is possible, with mutual love, diligence, intelligent organization of time, concentration and an ability to remain calm under pressure, to “have it all”. She exemplifies the “new woman,” who after achieving an enviable level of domestic happiness, has achieved extraordinary success in her worldly life. We celebrate Pauline Perry who has gracefully and persistently worked in the service of women’s issues through the elevation of higher education. #