John Barron - Obituary#

Read the obituary by Jasper Griffin, The Guardian, Friday 19 September 2008.

John Penrose Barron, classical scholar and educational administrator, born April 27 1934; died August 16 2008#

The following obituary was published in The Telegraph on 28 August 2008

Professor John Barron , who has died aged 74, was an eminent Hellenist and was Master of St Peter's College, Oxford, from 1991 to 2003.

Barron's research interests were wide and still growing at his death. His Silver Coins of Samos (1966) is still the standard work, and he continued to publish intermittently in this area. His Introduction to Greek Sculpture was published in 1965, with a second edition in 1981.

Among his most memorable works were articles on early Greek lyric poetry, which displayed both his ability to combine historical analysis with literary criticism and material culture and a capacity for radical rethinking, some of which is still making waves.

Over a distinguished career up to and well beyond retirement he also served in a number of senior academic posts, as a member of (what was) the University Funding Council and on a large number of committees and governing bodies at Oxford and elsewhere.

John Penrose Barron was born on April 27 1934. He was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, where he first acquired a love of Classics, and went on to study at that Classics hothouse, Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1957 with first-class honours and a clutch of university prizes. He completed his doctorate in 1961.

His career at London University lasted almost 30 years, and during his time there he taught across the Classics spectrum, a measure of his remarkable versatility. He began as lecturer in Latin at Bedford College before becoming lecturer in Archaeology and then Reader in Archaeology and Numismatics at UCL.

In 1971 he became Professor of Greek Language and Literature at King's College, where he served as head of the Classics department (1972–84) and Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1976–80). A contemporary from his time at King's described him as "one of the most ambitious men I ever knew in academia, and also one of the nicest and most helpful (a rare combination)".

Barron went on to become Director of the Institute of Classical Studies in Senate House from 1984 to 1991. The Institute brought out the best in him. Its library attracts visiting researchers from all over the world, and Barron always found time for them, especially for younger scholars. He was in his element at the institute's social events (the ICS had the reputation for giving the best Christmas parties in the University of London).

While Director he also served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1987 to 1989. He was instrumental in setting up the University of London Institute for Advanced Study (now the School of Advanced Study) to pull together the research institutes in Senate House, and he served as Dean of ULIAS (1989–91).

During this period Barron left an indelible mark on the discipline, when he chaired the review of Classics in British universities set up by the (then) University Grants Committee. This involved face-to-face meetings with potentially threatened departments, which he managed with his customary charm but also with frankness, as well as an ironic detachment from attempts to win a good result through good hospitality.

The 1987 Barron report produced a number of closures and amalgamations, and the process was painful for many of those affected. But it created departments with the critical mass needed to survive in the competitive landscape of post-1980s higher education. It put the discipline nationally in a better position to exploit the expansion of the 1990s and the culture of the research assessment exercise.

At St Peter's he was passionately concerned to raise academic ambitions. A popular Master, he is remembered for an old-fashioned management style with a strong focus on people, both colleagues and students. If his end-of-term progress meetings with students and their tutors had a tendency to overrun, it was because he was genuinely interested in the students. He revelled in freshers' dinners, where those attending would time his speeches to see how long he could hold forth.

He was a keen promoter of creative activity, especially music. He loved church music and never missed Sunday evensong (which also appealed to his sense of community) unless he was away from Oxford. At the formal dinner in hall afterwards he would preside with great style. It was therefore fitting that his retirement was marked with a special performance of The Messiah, one of his favourite works, at a crowded event. One of his high moments as Master was the re-inauguration of the "Father" Willis organ in 2003 after its restoration.

His other great passion was building. Three new buildings were added to the college on his watch; one of the disappointments of his time in Oxford was that his desire to acquire the land around Oxford prison for St Peter's never came off. As ever, he bore the outcome with equanimity.

He was keen on outreach work, and always ready to visit schools to encourage applications from state school pupils. He genuinely enjoyed ceremonial, but his sense of fun meant that he was never taken in by it.

In retirement Barron served as president of Clifton College, where he presided over meetings with easy grace and took an active interest in academic standards and senior appointments. He was also a very effective and committed chairman of the library committee at Lambeth Palace, playing a pivotal role in the cataloguing project of the Greek manuscript collection.

At the same time he returned to London as visiting professor at King's College and senior research fellow at the School of Advanced Study. He became interested in the contacts between Greek Orthodoxy and Anglicanism in the 17th century.

Barron's most recent publication, in the Bodleian Library Record 2008, was on the 14th-century Book of Hours from the collegiate foundation of St George's in Oxford Castle. He also found time to enrol in a graduate class in Greek manuscript hands, a measure both of his love of learning and lack of pomp.

He was a gifted lecturer, reflected in visiting professorships at Vassar and Princeton and a string of public lectures over the years. While at King's he was a much-admired Public Orator for London University. He was also a witty and erudite lecturer on Swan Hellenic cruises, and used to produce hair-raising anecdotes of the rigours of these expeditions in the early days under the likes of Sir Mortimer Wheeler. He was fascinated by, and fascinating on, the Riace bronzes.

Barron was one of those Hellenists who love Greece and Greeks in the present and not just as an abstract in the distant past. He had many Greek friends and loved to travel there, enjoying the food and drink as much as the monuments. Greece was also a source of surreptitious cuttings for his garden.

John Barron married, in 1962, Caroline Mary Hogarth, a distinguished medieval historian at Royal Holloway. She survives him with their two daughters.

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