Today would have been Lorna Arnold's 100th birthday. I'm very sad she isn't here to celebrate it, but I'm still grateful to have known her and it feels right today to talk about my Great-Aunt Lorna. My elder sister recently told me that she knew Lorna wasn't allowed to talk about her work, so always assumed she was a spy! She was a nuclear historian, working alongside Margaret Gowing.
You can find out about her life on her website, wikipedia or in her memoire, so that's not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about how her life has inspired me: the fact that it wasn't until she was in her mid-40's that she found the career she's famous for. When I was feeling like my life was wasting before, racing away from me, I took strength from remembering that, and that was a huge part of how I had the courage to apply for the job I'm now in. She gave me that strength.
I also want to talk about the last time I saw her, the summer before she died. She lived up in Oxford, and there was an exhibition at the Ashmolean my Dad, step-mum and I wanted to see so it was a good justification to pop in. She wasn't quite ready when we got there, very frail by then, her carer was helping her as we waited. It was weird for me: there was something familiar about the house as we arrived, and as we waited I looked out at the garden and it was exactly as I knew it would be. And Dad remembered that I had been here before when I was very tiny. Strange the things we remember: it was the sunshine in the garden.
When Lorna came down, I was silhouetted against the French windows, which meant despite her now limited vision, she could still see me and commented how tall I was - I was amazed, similarly, by short she seemed. She's one of these people who filled any room she was in, so it seems strange that she was so little. We ate cake and drank tea and talked about the world and the way it's shaped. She commanded a room when she spoke, and she spoke so articulately and intelligently. And you know what, she made me feel invincible in her calm, made me feel like I could achieve anything, and I needed that at that moment. My depression started to lift for the first time after that visit.