A FORMER diplomat who was principal of Somerville College and oversaw the admission of its first male students has died aged 81.

Catherine Hughes was a senior civil servant working in the Foreign Office who took the reins of the Woodstock Road college at the end of the 1980s.

She held the position of principal from 1989 to 1996 and oversaw the first admissions of male fellows in 1993 and undergraduates in 1994.

There had been a great debate about whether to admit men, but it was Mrs Hughes’ decision to eventually do so. The event has been commemorated this year.

This week’s obituaries:

Current Somerville College principal Dr Alice Prochaska said: “This is a very sad time for the whole college.

“Catherine Hughes was an insightful, effective and much- respected principal.

“She and her husband Trevor Hughes’ wonderful generosity to Somerville on behalf of students and fellows has made a significant difference.”

Catherine Eva Pestell was born in County Durham on September 14, 1933.

As a girl she won scholarships to both Leeds High School and then to St Hilda’s College, where she studied history. She took a job in London at the Foreign Office in 1955 and then later worked at the Hague in the Netherlands.

It came before a three-and-a-half year period as second secretary at the British Embassy in Bangkok.

After returning to London for another five years, she was appointed first secretary to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

It was a position she held for two years before returning to Oxford, as a visiting member of St Antony’s College. Other postings abroad followed, including East Berlin from 1975 to 1978 and Bonn from 1983 to 1987.

She returned to the UK again in 1987 to work as assistant under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office, a role she held until 1989.

Miss Pestell was elected principal of Somerville College in 1989 and married her husband Dr Trevor Hughes in 1991.

He was a neuropathologist and at the time acting-warden of Green College, next door to Somerville.

Mrs Hughes was the first principal of the college to marry while in office.

She remained in the post until 1996, but even after stepping down held close links with the college.

In particular, she made a series of donations to help the college support students in history, English and modern languages, and this year established the Rhabanus Maurus Travel Grant.

The first award of the fund was given to Anna Branford in May.

Catherine Hughes died on December 10 after a long period of illness.

A funeral took place on December 22 in the chapel at Somerville College, in Woodstock Road.

A memorial service is also to be held there on May 9 and a small exhibition about her life has been set up in the college library.

Mrs Hughes is survived by her husband.


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