Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw: 1912 – 2014

It is with the greatest of sadness that the RNCM reports the death of acclaimed mathematician and politician Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw on 10 August 2014 at the age of 101.

Born in Withington, Manchester, Dame Kathleen was Chairman of the Joint Committee and Court at the College from 1972 to 1986 and remained a truly loyal advocate and supporter.

In fact, as music critic Michael Kennedy recalled during the RNCM’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2012/13, there are some who would say the College would not exist without her, recognising her as the driving force behind its creation:

‘I first met Kathleen Ollerenshaw when she was Chairman of the Joint Committee, formed to smooth the way to the merger of the Royal Manchester College of Music and the Northern School of Music into the not yet Royal Northern College of Music. Smooth, did I say? Never was a word so misused. What ought to have taken a few meetings stretched out over 15 years. I learned from Kathleen’s chairmanship how to deal with plotting, obduracy, sudden forgetfulness and the best use of red herrings. Without her we might still be talking about a new college instead of celebrating its 40th year.’

Dame Kathleen’s steely determination can be traced back to 1921 when, at the age of eight, she was diagnosed almost completely deaf. Twelve years later, despite this profound disability, she graduated from Somerville College, Oxford, on path to becoming one of Britain’s leading mathematicians, lecturing at the University of Manchester after the Second World War and writing in excess of 25 papers on the subject.

Perhaps less prominent to the public, but equally important, is the role music, and in particular the RNCM, continued to play in Dame Kathleen’s life. Let’s not forget, this is the extraordinary woman who prevented the College building site from being disrupted by travellers just hours before work was due to commence.

As written in Michael’s book Music Enriches All – The Royal Northern College of Music: the First Twenty-One Years: ‘The bulldozers were due to move on to the site on a Monday morning. The Chairman of the Joint Committee, Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, drove there in her white Rover from her home in Didsbury several times during the day on the Sunday. Convinced that there was a real risk of occupation, she drove round and round the site through the night. At 8.30am the work began.’

Since those inaugural meetings in 1972, Dame Kathleen supported the College and its students immensely, and for this the RNCM past, present, and undoubtedly future, owes her a great deal.

As Principal Professor Linda Merrick said: ‘Dame Kathleen was a remarkable woman who will forever be remembered as a pivotal figure in the history of the RNCM. Her loyal support to both staff and students remains invaluable, and I know that she will be greatly missed by the many friends she made here over the past 40 years. Our thoughts are with her family at this very sad time.’

12 August 2014