For more than 20 years, Jen Shepherd was a key member of the team at the Ruskin Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University. Her recent death represents a sad loss to all who knew her.
THE FAITHFUL SHEPHERDESS
Whenever I arrived at the Ruskin Library, Jen was the first person who greeted me. She always did so with the warmest welcome and the widest possible smile. She may have been called the Secretary, and later the Administrator, but she seemed to me to be the head of pastoral care—our aptly named and ever faithful shepherdess. In the best sense, it was like having my mum there. I was safe. I could relax. I would be looked after.
Jen always found time for a chat in the office however busy she was. She keenly asked me how I was, and referred only briefly to any difficulties of her own. She would update me about her work on the latest exhibition catalogue or the next issue of the Ruskin Review and Bulletin, and give me progress reports on the digitisation of the Library Edition of Ruskin’s Works, one of the great electronic resources available to scholars today. More than anything else, she would speak about her family, always with intense fondness and boundless pride. During my many visits to the Library as a young man in the first decade of the century, my conversations with her often turned to the bands her kids were listening to, and to the gigs and festivals they went to.
Quite by chance I discovered one day that a mate of mine—who had no connection with Ruskin—used quite often to chat with her on the bus. They were more or less strangers, I think, but got to recognise one another, and Jen being Jen, she initiated a friendly chat. How many people’s lives she must have touched in that way by her openness and warmth?
Jen showed me many significant kindnesses over the years. Unfussily conscious of my sight difficulties, she would quietly pass me a large-print edition of a catalogue, or send me an electronic copy of the journal. Needless to say that the time and effort such acts of thoughtful generosity cost her were never mentioned by her.
Deeply saddened as I am by her death, I can only think of her with a smile on her face, and that puts a smile on mine. I will always be grateful for her kindness and generosity. She will be sorely missed. I send my heartfelt condolences to the family I know she loved above everything else.