December 31, 2014 in Anniversary


[Published on 31 December 2014, with updates.]

Considering the completion of the calendar year, in our landmark Anniversary Year of 2014, we recollect with sadness the Associates who have departed from this life during the year, and the Trustees and Associates who have thus departed across the years since our foundation both as an international scholarly society in 1990 and a nonprofit educational corporation in 1999. We remember these colleagues and friends with thanks and admiration.

This year is the first year, in the redesign of our official website, that we record those colleagues, sponsors, and friends of the Research Group in a special group honored respectfully ‘In Memoriam’. We aim to gather recollections of their presence, in respect and admiration.

DSCN1561 Stairway to Heaven Accessible If You Dare

‘Ascending’. Photograph © Mildred Budny


Vivien A. Law

[From Mildred Budny on 26 May 2021]

We continue to lament the passing of a beloved friend, colleague, and Trustee, Vivien A. Law (22 March 1954 – 19 February 2002). After her death, her widower, Sir Nicholas Shackleton (1937–2006), also a friend, asked me to return to Cambridge in 2006 so as to examine her archives, whilst he was preparing for his own rapid demise, and to give advice about their appropriate distribution.

As he put it, he as a scientist knew about the distribution of his own archives (for example to the Royal Society), but he knew “few humanists who had a comparable range and depth of interests as Vivien”.  It wasn’t that she and I had the same interests, because we and they were to some extent different, but we shared an unusual range and depth for them.

It was disgraceful that her former supervisor, getting wind of my visit, took it upon himself to spread the word that I would be coming as a predator intent upon taking advantage of a widower losing control of his faculties and sense.  That this gossiper conceived of, and embarked assiduously upon, this plan probably has more to do with his continuing contention with my former boss in Cambridge (by then dead), and a desire to take them out (still) on me as a handy target, than with Nick’s faculties or susceptibilities.

Vivien and I had been close friends for decades, well before I reached Cambridge in 1986 (her home since 1974), and more frequently afterward.  We talked often about interests and issues well beyond the academic spheres, important as they were and are.  Thus, I knew already about many of her interests and the events of her life — and from her own lips — before the obituaries revealed some (but not all) of them to a wider world.

For exploring her archives, Nick granted me access to all of them (after some appropriately probing questions).  Thus, for example, I could read all her diaries (journals), which stretched across the decades, with very few gaps.

Vivien’s dedication to that journal-writing seems to have been as fervent and as steady as her mother’s, to judge by the mother’s correspondence.  I keep the sole letter to me from Vivien’s mother, after Vivien’s death.  The densely cramped lines of handwriting show that same dedication as in her many, many letters to her sole daughter.  It became clear from that long correspondence that I knew from Vivien some of her own private, familial experiences which remained unknown to her mother.  Because of that knowledge, I could venture to ask Nick about them, with further and poignant insights. Someday, with Nick’s ready encouragement at the time, I might record those insights.

It was a pleasure to read in Vivien’s diary the eloquent entry for the relevant year and date, regarding my move to Cambridge from London, “Milly is coming!”

Well I remember the telephone call, trans-Atlantic, one of many, as I was walking in my sunlit garden, and telling Vivien about the newly incorporated state of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence (in 1999) as a nonprofit educational corporation in the United States, to which the Research Group had moved its principal base in 1994 after years in Cambridge. Vivien had been an Associate of the Research Group since soon after its formation at Corpus Christi College. In Cambridge, she contributed to our classes as well as our seminars on the Evidence of Manuscripts, during our work on a major research project on its Anglo-Saxon and Related Manuscripts.  Her guidance for those classes, for directions of the Research Group activities over the years, and for all the grammatical and glossarial manuscripts in the Illustrated Catalogue, remains vivid in memory.

On that telephone call, I asked Vivien, as I had promised, if she would be willing to become a Trustee for the nonprofit educational corporation, founded in November 1999.  She replied that, with the new diagnosis (which would, some years thence, carry her away), she was systematically shedding the commitments to various organisations, but, because she believed in our organisation and its mission, she accepted with alacrity and pleasure.

Over the next few years, I joined Vivien on her last visit to Montréal, intended as a deliberate form of leave-taking of the place where she had fondly attended school and college.  On a couple of return trips to Cambridge, I would stay with Vivien and Nick, with treasured conversations at breakfast, Sunday lunch, and other moments.

It was another Trans-Atlantic telephone call, that Nick took care to telephone and report that she had died the day before.  I moved outside to sit in the same garden, to watch the trees and sky as we talked about her, her death, and her life.  A few months later, the Research Group accomplished its co-sponsored Colloquium at The British Museum (7–9 March 2002) on Form and Order in the Anglo-Saxon World.  I dedicated my presentation to the memory of Vivien and another beloved teacher and friend, Helen Maguire Müller.

Vivien Law in her Garden in Cambridge, England,June 1996 Photograph © Mildred Budny

Vivien Law in her Cambridge Garden in June 1996 (Photograph © Mildred Budny)


Respectfully we remember those who have gone before us.  It is an honor and a duty to remember them.  So it must be.  So it should be.

We thank you.