Vicky Johnson, former ARC president
Vicky Johnson remembers three remarkable women.
My Great Aunt, Helena Garforth who was one of the first ever female dental surgeons in the UK. She was a year younger than my Grandfather who was made to wait a year before taking up a place to read dentistry at Manchester University so that he could chaperone his younger sister. They went in 1920 and graduated together some years later. She then practiced with their father and as she was a trained dental surgeon and her father was not she administered the anaesthetics for extractions. I always think my Great Grandfather was pretty forward thinking but faced with Aunty Lena’s determination I suspect he quailed. She was inspirational because she didn’t give up, but she was formidable. So when, some years later, I asked my father to tell me more about her he said he didn’t really know too much because she always scared him too!
And then there’s Michelle [Wyer] who was ARC President from 2006–2008 and who found time to take me under her wing and somehow provide me with opportunities, starting with the national senior women’s network she set up, to broaden my horizons and continue to develop the diversity agenda with the department. Always cheerful, always available to provide advice, practical, kind and resourceful, she is the reason I felt able to step into being ARC President ten years later and she remains a source of inspiration to this day.
Finally my own mother, who spent seven of her first ten years of life in the 1940s equivalent of care, being moved from Harrow to Liverpool (via Blackpool) with her older sister. For these seven years she lived with nuns and saw her father, brother and other older sister once a year if that. At ten she went back home to live with her parents and was part of a social experiment by Harrow County Council. They got their brightest children to sit entrance exams for exclusive boarding schools and paid for them to take the places up.
Mum ended up at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire with a number of titled and/or wealthy girls who were unkind to her because of her background. Despite that she thrived, developing her talent for singing and drama and ultimately leaving school to train as a teacher at Homerton College in Cambridge. She has worked all her life, to the best of my knowledge she never had any time off sick and rarely missed a day (even when my brother or I were ill). She strives to remain independent as she gets older and her memory fades.
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