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High achiever in her own right

The Age

Friday April 1, 2011

By PATRICIA HEWITT and HILARY HEWITT

ALISON HOPE HEWITTENGLISH LECTURER30-10-1915 18-3-2011HOPE Hewitt, who made her own mark as a university lecturer, theatre critic and book reviewer and was not subsumed by the overarching shadow of her husband, Lenox, one of Australia's most distinguished public servants, has died at a nursing home in Canberra. She was 95.Hope, one of Canberra's oldest residents, having arrived at Red Hill as a child in 1928, was one of the first women appointed to teach English literature at Canberra University College, later the Australian National University. She was senior lecturer from 1965 until she retired in 1981.In 1968, she was appointed deputy chairman of the National Literature Board of Review, having been a member of its predecessor body, the Literary Censorship Board, from 1960. She also served on the council of Garran College at the ANU and contributed to the Canberra community as a hospital volunteer, English teacher to new arrivals, and supporter of several charities, among other activities.At a time when it was unusual for married women to work, she combined a demanding, full-time career with bringing up four children, supporting Len's career and, for many years, helping to care for her mother, Pattie Tillyard. Not to mention her work for The Canberra Times as a theatre critic, book reviewer and popular local poet; her large and beautiful garden, where she raised chickens and grew the vegetables and fruit that she cooked, preserved and gave away to friends and good causes; and the sewing, knitting, patchwork and weaving that she created over many years.Hope's friends and family wondered how on earth she juggled it all. Before the children were awake, she had prepared the evening meal slow-cooked in the indispensable Aga put on a load of washing and baked a cake for after-school tea. In the evening, she sat in a large, old armchair, in front of an open fire in the Canberra winters, knitting a sweater while she marked students' essays or prepared her next lecture.Like her mother, Hope was a strong feminist, believing that women needed to earn their own living and take a lead in their community; she was blessed with extraordinary energy and willpower.She was one of four daughters born in Sydney to English immigrants Robin, the first chief of the entomological division at CSIRO, and Patti, a fellow of Queens College, Cambridge. Hope's happiest early years were spent in New Zealand, where her father moved to head the biological department at the Cawthron Institute in Nelson. The family moved to Canberra in 1928 on Robin's appointment at CSIRO.With their striking good looks, the sisters, Patience, Faith, Hope and Honour, cut a swathe in the new capital city. Gough Whitlam was a school friend and fellow-student at Telopea Park High School. All the girls played sport; Hope excelled at tennis and hockey.Her academic gifts won her scholarships, first to study arts at Sydney University, followed by fine arts at Sydney Technology College.Hope's first love was painting, and in the late 1930s she went to Paris, where she rented a tiny apartment in Montparnasse and was accepted as a student by Jacques Ernotte, a distinguished artist and set designer. The outbreak of World War II forced her to flee to London, leaving behind canvases selected for showing at the prestigious Salon d'automne.In London, she and her older sister, Pat, drove ambulances before returning to Australia in a convoy carrying refugee children from Britain. One of the ships in the convoy was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat.Hope met Len in Canberra in 1941, after she returned from Europe, and they were married in 1942 at Scotch College Chapel in Melbourne. Later, after returning to Canberra in 1953 from Len's posting to the Australian high commission, she gained a bachelor of commerce at CUC.Hope specialised in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, together with the 18th and 19th-century English novel, inspiring many generations of students with her love of literature and theatre.When her ANU sabbatical came round in 1964, she and Len arranged for the four children to go to a French, Protestant international boarding school surely the only one to be found in Catholic France while she settled in Bristol to study with renowned Shakespearean scholar Lionel Knights.Then, and on many later visits to London, she crammed in performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Old Vic and other British theatre troupes and, years later, could recall the productions in astonishing, colourful detail. Back in Canberra, she became a supporter of the Repertory Theatre, cheerfully lending the antique shawls, fans and dresses inherited from her mother or from her own pre-war wardrobe, and assiduously attending and reviewing their productions. She was one of the first members of the board of the new Canberra Theatre.Hope enthusiastically supported her children's multiple activities and later was delighted by their varied careers: Patricia as a social activist and cabinet minister in the Blair government in Britain; Antonia as an interpreter with the European Commission in Brussels; Hilary who studied architecture; and Andrew as a captain with Qantas and a farmer near Hall.She is survived by her husband, Lenox, children Patricia, Hilary and Andrew, and five grandchildren.

© 2011 The Age

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