Lucy Mitchell obituary

Born 1920, died 2016. A former member of staff at the University in the Faculty of Pure Science and the Central registry.


Born in Woodhouse where she grew up. Father second-master of Grammar School there. Lucy educated at the school and gained a state scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read French and German. Keen sportswoman and won her ‘blue’ for hockey in her first year, playing for the University team during her three years at Cambridge.

War had already started when Lucy went to Cambridge and was still raging when she left. Appointed to War Office and assigned to Naval Section at Bletchley working on the then secret but now famous ‘Enigma’ code-breaking machine. Illness caused by irregular shift work. On returning to duty she was posted in MI6, engaged in counter espionage. Victory in Europe involved transfer to Germany. Nobody permitted in the British zone unless in uniform so Lucy and her female colleagues had to have a crash officers training course. Passed out with rank of subaltern in the ATS, later gained her third pip.


On return to civilian life appointed Secretary to headmaster of Rugby, the famous public school. Revolutionary decision by headmaster, Sir Arthur Fforde, to appoint first woman to post. Also gave her free rein to take on many extra tasks. At first some staff dubious about her fulfilling this role but, when she left at the end of 10 years, the stuffiest of house masters acknowledged that ‘a pillar of the school is leaving’.

Mother died during her first year at Rugby and her father, who had been Lord Mayor of Sheffield the year after the blitz, 1941-42, came to live with Lucy wherever she went until his death in 1967.


Appointed Bursar and Secretary to the Governors of a school for girls in south Croydon. Not particularly happy there. Work less attractive than in her previous job.


Moved to become Administrator in the Department of Psychiatry at Leeds University. First time such an appointment had been made and, initially, task not made easy by some staff considering no need for such a person. Lucy persuaded them otherwise.

Always alert to changes, Lucy took advantage of the move to appoint professional administrators to faculty offices with the expansion of universities. Post in Faculty of Pure Science at Sheffield University – a daunting task. Office had been run by a Sub-dean, a lecturer in botany. Retained all the information in his head. There were some files but non dated. To add to the problems, the Sub-dean went on his holidays three weeks after Lucy arrived and dropped dead on his way to France. The other Sub-dean had only taken office just before Lucy arrived. Traumatic. Lucy rose to the challenge and, at least, was able to establish everything from scratch. Made sure, most rigorously, that nothing was ever undated. ‘If the secretaries failed to date…!’

After five years, with Faculty Office running smoothly, Lucy transferred to Central Registry to work with Deputy Registrar in servicing new committees concerned with academic planning throughout the University. For ten years she provided statistical background material and wrote most of papers for Academic Development Committee


Became Senior Assistant Registrar


Took advantage of recently instituted scheme of early retirement. Maintained a colourful and varied garden, full of fruit and flowers. Snowdrops.