Dame's delight at Oxford pardon;Diary

7th May 1999 at 01:00
CONGRATULATIONS to the Diary's favourite Dame - Tamsyn Imison, head of Hampstead school, awarded an honorary fellowship by her old Oxford college, Somerville, for her contribution to education over more than three decades.

Dame Tamsyn's relations with Somerville haven't always been so cordial. She studied there as a zoology undergraduate and was chucked her out in her second year ... for getting married.

In 1959, married women were barred from some colleges. However, Tamsyn's groom, Michael, was allowed to continue his studies at Exeter College.

"It was the old governors who were the sticklers," Tamsyn recalls. "There was a lot of fuss behind the scenes - I was well-supported by the rector of my husband's college. The year after, they changed the rules."

Tamsyn went to Ruskin College in Oxford to pursue her second love, art, while Michael finished his degree. Then she started zoology again at Queen Mary in London (where she reckons she got a better degree).

Rapprochement arrived last year with a letter of congratulation on Tamsyn's knighthood from Somerville's present principal and fellow dame, Fiona Caldicott. All is now forgiven.

"I don't hold it against Somerville," Dame Tamsyn says. "I think the governors were very foolish but in the end I gained from it. It's very useful to have a few setbacks in life."

That's the stuff that dames of the British Empire are made of.

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