Jul 27 2020

As a College, we are sad to share the news of the death of Dr Ruth Kennedy, Reader in Medieval Literature. Ruth had been at Royal Holloway for over 20 years, challenging and inspiring generations of students encountering medieval literature in the Department of English. 

Ruth (neé Knopfler) was born in Newcastle on 1 May 1947.  She joined us at Royal Holloway in 1990 as a lecturer in Medieval Literature, having pursued higher education as a mature student and gaining her PhD from Bristol University. The story she told of her job interview is entirely characteristic: having been asked a series of questions by persistent interviewers, her fist snuck out from under the table of its own accord and pounded on the table as she said, ‘Just give me the job, and I’ll show you that I can do it!’ Ruth always did things her own way, with passion, character, and a fierce affection both for her subject matter (Middle English poetry, especially the literature of the alliterative revival) and for her students.  

Ruth was crazy, head-strong, impulsive, infuriating, and yet always concerned first and foremost for the well-being of her students. More than once she dropped everything, got in her car, and drove off to visit a student at his or her residence because she was concerned about his or her mental health. She saved lives. She took time to be human with people. She herself was always larger than life—for example, taking up karate and earning a black belt in it in her 50s, and always being ready to demonstrate her high kicks in the hallway of the English Department. 

The accomplishment that meant the most to her was her ‘Apple for the Teacher’ award: an award based on her nomination to the Students’ Union by her students. 

Ruth helped to build and develop the field of Medieval Studies at Royal Holloway, being a key member of the team of undergraduate and postgraduate instructors, as well as putting Royal Holloway firmly on the Medieval Studies map by running the intercollegiate London Old and Middle English Research Seminar for many years. Her publications include Authority and Subjugation in the Writing of Medieval Wales, ed. by Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Writers of the Reign of Henry II, ed. by Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and Three Alliterative Saints’ Hymns, ed. by Ruth Kennedy, EETS, OS 321 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 

Ruth S. Kennedy passed away in her beloved country home near Swindon on 13 July 2020 after a mercifully brief struggle with cancer. She is survived by her four children (Emma, Dominic, Lulu, and Juliet) and her four grandchildren (Lily, Rainbow, Hugo, and Thomas). Her funeral is on Thursday 30 July, unfortunately during the social distancing required by the COVID pandemic, but her family hopes to hold a memorial in summer 2021 to celebrate her life.