SOUE News Issue 5

Dr J D Todd

Joe Todd was successively, from 1942 onward, an undergraduate here, a DPhil student, a member of the academic staff and engineering tutor at St Edmund Hall. He will be well remembered by those who were here any time from the 1950s to the 1980s. After spending several years of retirement at Abingdon, he died in February 2006. The following tribute was given at his Memorial Service on 13 May, by Basil Kouvaritakis, his colleague at St Edmund Hall.

Despite his very affable and sociable public persona, Joe was also a strong private family man. This, combined with our short overlap (Joe was my senior engineering colleague at Teddy Hall for seven years) makes the honour of giving an address to celebrate his life rather difficult. Difficult, not because of the lack of superlatives with which to pay tribute to his many virtues and facets of life. Difficult, in terms of not knowing enough about an important aspect of his life that belongs to Peggy and his family alone.

Joe's Oxford story begins in 1942 when he came up to read Engineering, a course he had to interrupt to do his military service. He returned to complete the course, do a successful doctorate, and end up being appointed to a lecturership in Engineering Science. At the time, Engineering dons did not hold fellowships, and when the university first realised this anomaly, Joe was remarkably one of the first to be appointed an engineering college tutor. The reason why this is remarkable is that over Joe's years as tutor, engineering at Oxford changed beyond all recognition. The strength of it now (both at college and department) is, in no small measure, due to the energy, enthusiasm, and inventiveness of people like Joe. When first appointed, he was given a small room (currently used as a kitchen) in the Jenkin building, even though at the time he was the effective senior administrator. But this was not for long: the department expanded massively starting with the erection of the Thom building that was overseen by Joe and few of his immediate colleagues. The same happened in college with the construction of the Kelly and Emden buildings, the SCR, JCR, and the raised quadrangle. Needless to say, Joe served on the committee that directed this enormous expansion of the Hall. His expertise with concrete came in handy. There are rumours that he proposed an innovative, albeit somewhat eccentric, test for the strength of the upper quad; it involved the use of a swimming pool carrying lots of water. He built up the engineering numbers at Teddy Hall to such an extent that a second (and latterly a third) Engineering Fellow was appointed. He had a talent for gaining the trust of schools. His exceptional skill at building good contacts meant that Teddy Hall, frequently, had such an excellent crop of applicants that the Hall would export (to other colleges) our surplus engineering candidates. There was nothing nepotistic about his approach to admissions: the overriding principle was academic merit. So, for example, when I got into difficulties with one of our candidates who whipped up a story in the national press about Teddy Hall turning the tide against sportsmen, Joe was an absolute rock, providing the much needed support: Joe's position was that we judged the candidate on his academic merit and that alone.

Many students may have mistaken Joe's kindly attitude for a weakness but far from it, he was firm, principled, and fiercely fair. He enjoyed a wonderful rapport with our college engineering students. And they demonstrated clearly their affection for him, leaving me feeling somewhat envious, during the end of year dinners. I tried to pretend that this was due to my being a bit of a hard task master, but the truth of the matter is that Joe made them work just as hard while still managing to cut a fatherly figure amongst our women but also our men students. I had a similar story from another colleague who felt Joe outshone him, this time as a tutor at a women's college (we are going back some years here). This other colleague was already a successful tutor at a women's college and recommended Joe to Lady Margaret Hall, only to find out that, in no time, Joe's reputation had overtaken his own. Joe was a superb college tutor, but he left his mark in the department as well. He was one of the terrible three (Howatson, Lund, and Todd) who wrote the students' bible, the dreaded but extremely successful data book known as HLT, and of course he also authored a definitive undergraduate textbook on Structures. A now retired engineering colleague, not known for his hyperbole, and who as a student attended Joe's lectures commented: lucid, audible, coherent, to the point, and taken at just the right pace; learning the subject was a pleasure.

That last attribute was key to Joe's interaction with all of us: whatever he did, seemed fun. He never shirked from doing whatever was needed to get the job done (pleasant or unpleasant), but he did it with infectious enthusiasm and the fun element was never out of sight. So for example, college office found Joe's long stint as Admissions Tutor to be challenging, but always rewarding. Apparently, Joe was the only Fellow to apologise, whenever he felt he was in the wrong. He would exact high standards, but would do so in a convivial way - often matching his generous spirit with the odd bottle of wine. The College Office described him as a private, thoughtful, and lovely man. And a lovely man he truly was, accepting others as they were; using his natural canniness and energy to change things for the better; but also accepting opposite views and endorsing decisions, even when these were against his considerably well informed instincts. His excellent understanding of the college's and university's workings served college well, and in particular during Joe's Pro-Principalship and Vice-Principalship.

His non-academic contributions were multifaceted, starting perhaps from the boat club where as a captain he did much to build it up, and in later years offering his services to the Oxford University Engineering Society. He left a distinct legacy with two innovations: the Todd formula, or modified Todd formula as is now known, which formalised the proper balance between fellows' and college's needs. And the nonlinear pay scale (endorsed by college for many decades now) which provided an ingenuous and compassionate way to compromise between the impoverished younger fellows and the relatively better off old-timers. And in between these, there is an assortment of other activities such as support of the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra, which demonstrated his enormous energy and vision.

As an immediate colleague, Joe was an absolute model: he was utterly discreet, according me as much autonomy as I desired, but always being in the background to provide whatever help I needed. He respected me as a colleague, from my very early years (even when I first reported for duty in 1981 rather pathetically carrying a walking stick, arguably in an attempt to draw sympathy). His respect spurred me on to work for the college to the best of my ability. He did this by example and by a clear demonstration of his love and commitment to college both of which have infected me thoroughly. I could not have wished for a better colleague.

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