An unbroken thread…
Julia Melvin (MA 1964) describes here the unbroken thread of four generations of her family who studied at St Andrews – beginning with the renowned Principal James Colquhoun Irvine, who graduated in 1898.
‘You would say that, wouldn’t you, Mum?’ were the memorable words of my son, Charles, as I gently tried to suggest that St Andrews should be on his UCAS list. It has to be admitted that our house is a bit like a mini-St Andrews museum: the pictures that line the walls; the portraits that gaze at you; the books that crowd the bookshelves: St Andrews was all around him.
Charles had been a schoolboy archeologist, and he flirted with the idea of other universities that offered classical field archeology for undergraduate studies. However, the memory of a summer holiday in St Andrews when he was ten was enough to shock him into the realisation that he couldn’t bear to go anywhere else and the arrival of the fourth generation of our family to study at St Andrews was assured. This unbroken thread stretches back more than 100 years to the matriculation in 1896 of James Colquhoun Irvine, who famously never left St Andrews, dying in office as Principal Sir James Irvine. Charles talked it through with me before applying to St Andrews to read Ancient History/Medieval History. Never was there a more alive, committed and involved bearer of the red gown than Charles (1997-2001) He even wore the Principal’s gown for an afternoon, as he played the part of his great-grandfather in the KK procession.
St Andrews fosters fierce loyalty in her alumni; this family is no exception in our support for our alma mater, because we know that through St Andrews we are members of a wider family. Dynasties are a feature of the history of St Andrews: Dundas, Montrose, Graham, Playfair are names to conjure with and all were multi-generational St Andreans.
More than thirty years before my son, I went up in September 1960 to a place that had been my home as a wartime child. It felt strange to be there as a student, but all students experience that first strangeness in some form or other. One evening I was crossing the Quad after a late afternoon class and I heard an ethereal sound coming from a room on the north side of College. It was the Byrd five-part Mass being practised by the Renaissance Group. From that moment I never looked back; with the Ren Group I found a home within this challenging new family of mine, the University. For me St Andrews was indeed the ‘Singing University’ of 19th-century fame.
For my mother, Veronica Irvine, who graduated in 1933, her degree was a stepping stone to RADA. She had always aspired to go ‘on the stage’, and she was a leading light in the Mermaids, then in its infancy, but eager to put on modern plays as it continued to do in my day.
Which brings me neatly to the beginning. Veronica’s father, Principal Irvine was also of a rather thespian inclination. His speeches were greatly admired; his sense of dramatic timing was always used to good effect. It would be difficult to say which pleased him more: to step into the Union of an evening to see his daughter act or to cap his daughter on the day of her graduation. He, a man who possessed a rainbow array of the gowns and hoods of his honorary degrees, never under-estimated the achievements of his students.
James Irvine had come to St Andrews initially to take up a job in the Chemistry Department, a job that he quickly converted to taking a degree. His heart remained with Chemistry long after he became Principal. As their prof he was a father figure to his chemistry students and a boyish collaborator to his research students. It was an enormous sacrifice on his part when he had to give up all that side of his life to become Principal. Ever hopeful of a free afternoon, his lab coat used to hang at the ready, close by the door at University House.
It is to commemorate his affection for all his chemistry students that his family has decided to set up a fund for an Irvine Scholarship in Chemistry to exist in perpetuity in the University. This fund is open for contributions: all who value his legacy, particularly as a pioneering chemist, are invited to donate.