Valerie Anne Smith (née Hopkins) (18/9/52 to 19/6/19)
From a child, Valerie Smith was interested in history. The vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, when awarding her doctorate degree (at the age of sixty-four) at the Canterbury Cathedral ceremony, joked ambiguously ‘What took you so long?!’
Her lifelong passion for history meant that she finally became what she had admired – a respected academic historian and a Ph.D. Her modest self-image, diffidence, and putting others before herself meant that it was a long road. She completed her (first) undergraduate degree in history at Southampton University. Her enthusiasm then seemed to be for the Crusades, and her historian hero, Sir Stephen Runciman. She then settled into teaching history at a Kent secondary school where she remained for thirty years.
After the death of her husband she needed to fill a gap in her life. After a couple of false starts (one was a short course on astronomy), she returned to her first love, history. Short courses in history at her local University of Kent led to a part-time Certificate in Local History, some undergraduate history modules, and finally a complete BA in History – for the second time. She explained that she wanted to do a history degree again – but better! – and as a more mature individual. Her excitement grew as she realised her grades would earn her a first-class degree. Encouraged, she moved on to a master's degree, still at the University of Kent. The study sustained her while she underwent treatments for cancer, and her determination won her an MA with distinction.
A pause of a few months (‘a wobble’, as she called it) in which she was unsure of her direction, resolved into an M.Phil. in history, then a doctorate. Her earlier focus on researching local newspapers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led on to her archive research into late eighteenth-century religious dissent in England. Mentored throughout her more advanced studies by Professor Grayson Ditchfield, whom she hugely admired, she had many of the attributes of a fine historical scholar: a genuinely original mind; an unquenchable interest in the past; meticulous research skills; persistence and stamina in lengthy projects; perfectionism over details; modesty and willingness to take on board colleagues’ suggestions.