Susan Spence - How a career started at sea and ended in Sheffield

Born 1942, died 2020. A humanities graduate and a former member of staff at the University.

Susan on a ship, in her Navy uniform

Susan Spence’s career at the University was certainly not a straightforward one. Working for four years as a secretary to the Dean of Medicine in the 1960s, she was later drawn to Paris and a stint in the Royal Navy followed, taking her all over the world.

After ‘swallowing the anchor’, as her husband John so eloquently wrote in a letter to the University, she found herself back in Sheffield and craving the comfort and stability of the University environment. She secured a secretarial position in the Genetics Department and later moved on to the Vice-Chancellor's office, and finally to the Department of Philosophy via positions in the Politics and Law departments. 

From the lofty heights of the 12th floor of the Arts Tower, it seemed that Susan had finally found her ‘home’. During her time with the Philosophy Department, she discovered what life was like on the other side of the desk, undertaking a degree in Humanities (BA, 1999) and even continued working two years after reaching retirement age.

Susan in her graduation photo

The University meant so much to Susan, often referring to it as ‘her’ University. She continued to be involved with its life and work long into her retirement, attending events in Firth Hall and participating in concerts with the University Choir. A supporter of student scholarships during her lifetime, she took the decision to leave a generous legacy gift to the University in her Will.

This heartfelt gift has been used to fund an Experience Sheffield scholarship, so named to give bright and talented students from lower income or disadvantaged backgrounds the chance at a university education and the opportunity to get the very best out of their university experience and all that studying at Sheffield has to offer. Hearing Susan’s story, allowing students to experience the joys of ‘her’ University would hopefully have pleased her.

As a first generation student from a working class family, it gave me a huge relief to receive this scholarship. I'd like to thank the donor for putting faith in people like me who are trying to break out of their past and make a future for themselves and their families.”


BA Chinese Studies & Business Management student, recipient of an Experience Sheffield Scholarship

The University would like to thank Susan’s husband John for providing the information and pictures of Susan for this obituary. 

If you would like further information about leaving a gift to the University in your Will, please contact the University’s Legacies Officer, David Meadows, by phone on 0114 222 1073 or by email at