Catherine Hughes, British diplomat and former Principal of Somerville, has died at the age of 81.

Born Catherine Eva Pestell in County Durham 1933, she won scholarships first to Leeds High School and later to St Hilda’s College, where she read History.

In 1955, she joined the Foreign Office, working first in London and then The Hague. Three-and-a-half years as Second Secretary in Bangkok followed. After a further five years in London, Miss Pestell was appointed First Secretary to the OECD in Paris, a position she remained in for two years before returning to Oxford as a visiting member of St Antony’s College. Foreign postings followed in East Berlin (1975-8) and Bonn (1983-7) before she finally returned to the UK to work as Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Public Departments) from 1987-89.

In 1991, she married Dr Trevor Hughes, a neuropathologist who at the time of their marriage was Acting Warden of Green College, situated next-door to Somerville.

She was elected Principal of Somerville College in 1989, and remained in post until 1996, overseeing the College’s decision to admit male students and Fellows. The first male undergraduates were admitted to Somerville in 1994, an event commemorated at the College earlier this year.

Mrs Hughes has remained committed to Somerville ever since. In her later years, she made a series of generous gifts to the College to support students (and sometimes Fellows) in History, and later in English and Modern Languages. She will be missed by many.

“This is a very sad time for the whole College,” said Dr Alice Prochaska, Somerville College Principal. “Catherine Hughes was an insightful, effective and much respected Principal. She was kind and considerate to all her colleagues, and much concerned with the intellectual development and well-being of the students. She and her husband, Trevor Hughes’s wonderfully generosity to Somerville on behalf of students and Fellows has made a significant difference. At this time, we remember above all a much-loved and very distinguished Principal, who held Somerville close to her heart.”

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