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Jubilee Report
Miss M. Mansfield

Monnie Mansfield died in the early evening of Thursday, 28 August 1963. As a young girl she was educated at Littledale, and she often spoke of her schooldays there and of Latin lessons from Archbishop Howley; and one knew how deep was her love of learning, her delight in books and her respect for scholarship. She taught school for a short period in St. John's; but her life and career, as they will be remembered in Newfoundland, began on 28 December 1929, when John Lewis Paton, with a prescience which must surely have surprised even that great man, invited her to come to the new Memorial University College as his secretary and Registrar.

When Miss Mansfield first came to the College, the enrollment was less than a hundred; administrative, like teaching, duties had not yet become specialized, and the office of Registrar included the functions of the Bursar; to these, after a period of study at Columbia University, she added the duties of Librarian as well. Principally, however, and increasingly as the years went by, Miss Mansfield was concerned with keeping the official records of students and College, a task she discharged briskly for more than a quarter of a century as the chief administrative officer under three Presidents.

But Monnie Mansfield was never one to wield remotely the official seal of an academic office. As both Registrar and Dean of Women, there was scarcely an aspect of the institution which did not feel her unmistakable and unceremonious personal influence. Of the thousands of students who passed under her observant eye, many could tell of her vigilance for their needs and happiness; many more were unconscious debtors. She seemed to know all of them (men and women), and all about them; one never really knew oneself until described by this rare woman with her direct gaze, insight into character and (when the need arose) her enviable command of vivid English. Her colleagues could tell of her passionate insistence on the individuality of students, and (without cant) on the honour and privilege of teaching them. She was herself, in the only sense that matters ultimately, one of the true teachers of the institution, a tutelary spirit who was always the first to be visited by returning students. When the history of the University College comes to be written, Monnie Mansfield will deserve a chapter to herself.

In 1960, at the Spring Convocation, the University marked her retirement by the conferring of the degree of Master of Arts, honoris cause. It was a memorable occasion because it was the last official ceremony in the old buildings, the end of a whole era, one personified by the remarkable woman upon whom the University, with singular appropriateness, bestowed its first honorary degree. "I find uppermost in my mind", she wrote to one of her students after the ceremony, "a feeling of gratitude and above all a deep humility. The highest compliment I can pay to Memorial (College and University) is to wish that I were at the beginning, not the end, of thirty years. For me it was a privilege to work with the youth of Newfoundland. Every spring I died a little saying goodbye to graduates, wondering about their futures. In September came a renascence - the surge of youth into Memorial with its hopes and possibilities. Now that I shall no longer be rowing in the boat you may rest assured I shall be cheering loudly from the shore".

She envied us the sparkling new campus on Elizabeth Avenue, especially the residences for her beloved students from the outports. (She seemed able, effortlessly, to recall the names and homes of a whole generation of them.) But it worried her that the transformation of a small college into a growing university might have as its debit side an impersonality, a lack of individual human contact, not only between teachers and students, but among the students themselves. She often swept in to satisfy herself that it was not happening. And always she left us cheered by her wit and sense of fun, and refreshed by her deep humanity. And when she could no longer come, her gallantry was still an example to enhearten all who knew her.

It is impossible not to imagine her still there in her office in the old building on Parade Street, seated at the high, old-fashioned desk with its clutter of books, papers and ash-trays; imperious commands to all corners of her realm punctuated by her catching laughter; the brusque impatience of manner quickly seen to be the non-deceiving disguise of an immense and inexhaustible kindliness and understanding. Who will care now how we turn out, or warn us when we slacken, or show us how to surpass ourselves? This is the real burden of mortality: "a human spirit shines out for so long that it becomes encrusted with memories, the oracle of wisdom for a whole tribe, a fountain of humorous affection, until suddenly the unimaginable happens; the sun goes out, the curtain of darkness falls." And round us, not about her, the shades gather.

by
G.M. Story

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