“Ruth Wynne-Davies was born in South London in 1926 as Ruth Blowers, the youngest of four children. She described her upbringing as ‘Edwardian’ and with that went 19th century attitudes to daughters and their potential place in the world. One of her uncles spotted Ruth’s intelligence and drive, and encouraged and supported her in her decision to apply for medical training. In his honour, Ruth took his surname of Wynne-Davies.
In 1947, Ruth started her medical training at the Royal Free School of Medicine. She failed her first year exams because she had never been taught science at school. Far from being discouraged, Ruth took a year to bring her scientific knowledge up to standard and returned to medical school to complete her training.
Ruth was a unique and very important figure in British Orthopaedics, making significant contributions to the understanding of diverse musculo-skeletal conditions, both common and very rare. She was one of the pioneers of serious scoliosis research and as research fellow, senior lecturer and then Reader in Orthopaedics where she discovered answers to the questions about the causes of scoliosis that had long puzzled surgeons. She was responsible for setting up specialist clinics throughout the UK and published two seminal books on skeletal dysplasias.
Ruth took early retirement in 1981, and moved to Oxford. Her pioneering spirit led her to begin studying at the University’s Department of Continuing Education in 1993 on a new part-time undergraduate-level course in English Language and Literature. This is where I met her, and in 1995 we both arrived at St Hilda’s as senior undergraduates and graduated BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature in 1997: I was 42, Ruth was 71. During our time at St Hilda’s we supported each other, worked together and laughed a lot. We shared tutorials and a love of early modern literature and developed an enduring friendship. After we graduated, Ruth maintained a longstanding involvement with St Hilda’s, working with Dr Jane Mellanby and regularly attending senior members’ events.
The last time we were together was at the English Subject Dinner in Hilary Term 2012; the last time I saw her she was cycling energetically through Oxford on a sunny Spring day. That was only a week or so before her death on March 11th 2012.
Ruth was a remarkable woman who developed an extraordinary network of friends and colleagues all over the world. She created a lasting place for herself in the field of orthopaedic diseases, where her work is an essential element in the understanding of modern genetics of musculo-skeletal disease.
That was Ruth – always looking forward, always knowing there was more to learn, even from things you thought you already knew. She was adventurous and courageous; she celebrated life and learning, and nurtured potential in herself and others: that is her legacy.”
Lynn Robson (English, 1995), Lecturer in English at Regent’s Park College
Gifts made in memory of Ruth Wynne-Davies will help us create a fund to benefit students of English and Early Modern Texts at St Hilda’s College. The Ruth Wynne-Davies Prize is awarded at the end of Hilary term for the best work in English or Early Modern texts (including Shakespeare) – either for an outstanding essay or for the best overall progress.