Dr Saskia Murk Jansen (1957-2024)

It is with great sorrow that I have to announce that our friend and colleague Dr Dr Murk JansenSaskia Murk Jansen passed away suddenly at home on Monday 19 February. Our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.

As many of you will know, Saskia joined the College in 2011 as a Fellow and Development Director. She was an unfailingly kind person, passionate about furthering the College in ways too numerous to mention, and her loss will be felt across the College and wider community.

A book of condolence has been opened in the College Chapel for anyone who would like to add to it. If you are unable to visit the College messages can be sent using the link below and will be added to the book.

Condolence Book

Professor Andy Parker
Master of Peterhouse

Obituary

SASKIA MURK JANSEN (1957-2024)

Saskia Monique Murk Jansen was the College’s second Development Director, following Neil Plevy.  Like Neil she died in office, but unlike Neil, who had been seriously ill for some time, she passed away from us completely unexpectedly on 19 February, 2024.  This, and the fact that she was a Tutor to undergraduates and acting Praelector made her sudden loss not only the more of a shock to those who worked closely with her, but it has also been a piercing trauma to the College community as a whole.

            She became a Fellow and our Development Director at the start of 2011; but had aspired to join Peterhouse over two decades before.  Her family was Dutch and she came to Britain as a baby.  She was bilingual in Dutch and English.  Her education was at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, before she became an undergraduate at Newnham College in 1976 and took a First in the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos (Dutch and Spanish).  She was also fluent in French and German.  She continued at Newnham in graduate study and took a Ph.D.  She was President of Newnham Middle Common Room.  Her Ph.D. was on the Beguines in the Middle Ages, particularly their writings in European vernaculars.  The Beguines were associations of lay religious women in the Low Countries.  Her academic field was thus Medieval Theology.  She published in this area and, in a separate field, as part of her employment career, on children’s science and engineering education.

            After Newnham she migrated to Robinson College as a British Academy Research Fellow and became Graduate Tutor, including Graduate admissions; and she was also Robinson’s Praelector.  She was at that college from 1989 to 2010.

            For some time she combined her academic interests with policy and development work.  At the end of her Research Fellowship she joined the Cambridge University Development Office working on Alumni Relations and as the Cambridge-based Administrator of the American Friends of Cambridge University.  She was the University’s first Head of Alumni Relations.  From 1992 to 1996 she was Assistant Director International Relations, Cambridge University Development Office, and Administrator of the American Friends of Cambridge University.  Throughout her career she put much thought into relations with America.  Later, as Peterhouse’s Development Director, she regularly crossed the Atlantic to foster alumni activity, as she also journeyed to the Far East.

            After her time at the University Development Office she then worked in London as the Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser on Education, focussing on the development of the Academy Schools’ programme, the improvement of science education in state schools, and raising the educational performance of children in care.  Her last position before she became a Fellow of Peterhouse was with Start, a sustainability project for the then H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.  Her task was to establish the policy parameters and to raise the corporate finance to put on a 12-day festival in central London in September 2010.  It was through this royal connexion that she was able to gain for Peterhouse the gracious presence of the Prince, now H.M. the King, to open the new Whittle Building at the west end of Gisborne Court in 2014.

           She also did pro-bono work for charities working in sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi and Eritrea.  She was a school-governor for two Cambridge schools.

            Also here in Cambridge she was a Proctor, on behalf of Newnham College, for the years 2003-06, and was Senior Proctor for 2004/05.  Petrean Tim Milner was that year Junior Proctor, for PeterhouseIt is perhaps worth noting that the post calls for an in-depth understanding of the principles of good governance as well as a combination of diplomacy and determination.  During her tenure there occurred the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to the University in June 2005, a significant challenge for the Proctors, and a success. She was also elected a member of the University's Board of Scrutiny.

            As Peterhouse’s Development Director she was involved in or instrumental in bringing to fruition the Whittle Building including the reordering of Fen Court, the extensive works on the Chapel and organ, and the renovation of the Brewhouse.  Her work in progress included, amongst much else, raising endowment funds for three Fellowships, Graduate Studentships for the Arts and Science, and the Lady Mary Ramsey Fund (a hardship and bursary fund for students).  Rowing, of course, mattered – she had herself rowed as a student: she was working to a target for refurbishment of the Boathouse.  In her earlier employments the creation and organisation of events had figured large; and this was so also at Peterhouse, including regular occasions for special donors: the William Stone Society from 2011 and the 1284 Circle from 2015.

           Saskia was married with two children.  She was a committed Anglican, but interested in interfaith dialogue.  Her love for and commitment to her family were always evident, as were her unstinting efforts for Peterhouse.  She kept animals – animals had been an integral part of her upbringing – and was devoted to them; and she put time and energy at difficult hours into caring for them daily out at her rural property.  She rode and participated in carriage driving.

           Her work-ethic was based on her ability to develop and maintain productive relationships.  Her fundraising success has been attributed to her networking skills and her close attention to stewardship, which enabled her to construct connexions with potential donors even in difficult situations, and to her persistence in negotiation.  She was active in and spurred on the associations of old members of Peterhouse, both the social wing, the Peterhouse Society, and the independent, fund-raising body, the Friends of Peterhouse.

           Her way with her employees was to work alongside her team, encouraging its members to extend themselves and to expand their skills.  Her management style has been termed open and consultative; and she was focussed and results-driven.  She set herself and her assistants high standards of performance and delivery in a friendly and reassuring environment.

           Saskia had a character that was loyal, generous, sympathetic and, it seemed, constantly cheerful and commendably charitable, however dreadful the circumstances.  Her winning glance was unnerving in a Senior Proctor, and her broad smile was perhaps compelling to donors.  Her arrival was regularly heralded and her presence accompanied by joyous laughter.  That is how we should best remember her.

©P. Pattenden

 

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