MAURICE VINCENT ALDRIDGE
When he came up to Queen’s in 1960 to read English, Maurice Aldridge had already proved that he had the courage and determination to overcome a major disability. He was to show these same sterling qualities, coupled with a fine intellect, throughout the rest of his life.
Born into a poor family and brought up in rural Devonshire, Maurice Aldridge left school at an early age to join the Royal Navy. His naval career was brutally cut short one day in 1953, when an accident on board the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in Scapa Flow left him with severe head wounds and completely blind. He was only seventeen at the time. After some months in the care of Sir Harold Gillies, the pioneering plastic surgeon renowned for his skill in repairing facial injuries, Maurice went to St Dunstan’s (now known as Blind Veterans UK, an organisation founded during the first World War to care for and assist the military blinded), where he received training in mobility and learnt to read Braille, to type and to play the piano. Endowed with a keen mind, a good memory and great powers of concentration, he was encouraged to study for a place at university. His efforts were rewarded with a scholarship to Oxford, and a place at Queen’s as a Barker Exhibitioner (an award reserved for blind students, preferably those intending to read English).
At Oxford the English course included texts such as the Old English epic Beowulf and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which did not exist in Braille. These had to be read aloud to him, but Maurice had no difficulty finding readers; his infectious enthusiasm for words, and readiness to share his favourite Somerset cider, made reading to him a pleasure, not a chore.
With an honours degree under his belt, and determined now to pursue an academic career, he stayed on in Oxford to prepare a glossary of a fifteenth century English translation of the popular Latin classic, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Undaunted by this challenging assignment – he took the view that if Milton could dictate the 10,000 or more verses of Paradise Lost after losing his sight, he ought to be capable of researching and typing a thesis of several hundred pages – he prepared and submitted an Annotated Glossary, with an Introduction, to John Walton’s 1410 translation of Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae. For this work of scholarship he was awarded a B.Litt. degree (subsequently re-named M.Litt.) in 1967.
The following year Maurice, with his wife Christine and their young son Oliver, went out to South Africa to take up an appointment as Lecturer in the English department of Rhodes University, Grahamstown. While there he developed his interest in linguistics, finding time, despite a full teaching schedule, to prepare a doctoral thesis on Quantifiers in English (a term used by specialists to denote words such as many, more, most, few…), which earned him a Ph.D in Linguistics. After ten busy years at Rhodes he was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of General Linguistics and Communication Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, a post which carried with it administrative as well as teaching duties. On his retirement in 1992 the University conferred on him the title of Emeritus Professor, in recognition of his services to “Wits”. That same year saw the publication of his own contribution to the science of linguistics, a 240-page study entitled The Elements of Mathematical Semantics. The author dedicated his book to St Dunstan’s, acknowledging that “without their endless support, (he) would never have been able to set out upon the road of scholarship, let alone become, in some small degree, a linguist”.
From Johannesburg the Aldridges moved to Bayeux in Normandy, where Maurice, who had taken up the classical guitar in South Africa, would sometimes surprise and delight the residents of that charming town by practising his guitar on a café terrace or a park bench. After ten enjoyable years in Bayeux, they moved to Huntly in Aberdeenshire, to be near their son, by then a qualified doctor in that part of Scotland. With Christine by his side, as she had been ever since their marriage in 1959, Professor Aldridge quickly became a familiar and respected figure in a community where academic achievement is appreciated as well as good whisky.
Through his own endeavours and with the help he received from St Dunstan’s, from his wife and family, and from university friends and colleagues – support which he always acknowledged and which he repaid as teacher, director of St Dunstan’s South Africa, and good-humoured companion – he was able to live a full life despite his blindness. He will be remembered with admiration and affection.
Professor M.V.Aldridge, M.A., M.Litt. (Oxon), Ph.D (Rhodes), 1936-2013
Last Modified: Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:57:37 SAST