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|'The College has no higher honour, and Miss Leeper was awarded it unanimously, enthusiastically, and with richly-deserved acclamation...'|
Valentine Alexa Leeper
The following article was first published in the Summer 1998/99 edition of TRINITYToday Number 56.
Miss Valentine Leeper was formally installed as a Fellow of Trinity in August 1998 by her long-time friend and Dean of Melbourne, Bishop James Grant, after her election to a Fellowship by the College Council. The Fellowship recognises Miss Leeper's long and devoted service to Trinity, and a lifetime of scholarship. Her installation ceremony was a landmark occasion in the College and many of Trinity's Fellows were there to welcome her into the illustrious fold. She is a wonderful example of the value of a life-time devoted to education and a strong role model for Trinity women.
At her installation, the Warden, Professor Donald Markwell, outlined a quite remarkable life. 'In the acknowledgments in his history of the College, published to mark the College's centenary in 1972, Bishop Grant paid especial thanks to Miss Valentine Leeper for aiding his research by searching her memory. Her knowledge of the history of this College remains as sharp and as detailed at the age of 98 as it ever was. In the College's 125th anniversary year, Professor John Poynter, the biographer of the first Warden, Dr Alexander Leeper, expressed similar thanks, and thanks also for the valuable books and papers associated with her father that Miss Leeper had given the College. John Poynter wrote: "A scholar by upbringing and instinct, she has advised and corrected, but never sought to impose her own judgements."
Valentine Alexa Leeper was born on St Valentine's Day 1900, and named in honour of the day and of her father. As our historians record, the students of Trinity - who knew the first Warden as 'Bones' and his children as 'the ossicles' - presented Valentine 'with a silver hand mirror "on the occasion of her baptisement"; a new boat was named Alexa in her honour; and she and her younger siblings gained the status almost of mascots in the College society'. Her interest in the College has never waned.
In scenes alas too rarely replayed in the Warden's Lodge today, Warden Leeper read his young children stories from the Odyssey, of which they were even fonder than of Robert and the Owl. Little wonder, perhaps, that Valentine consistently topped her class at Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School; and in 1918 became an undergraduate in the University of Melbourne as a non-resident student at Trinity.
Her father, himself of course a pioneer of women's education, wrote of her in that year: "Her most dominant interest is religion; but she loves all intellectual pursuits also. She has a fine sense of literary excellence, especially in poetry. She has read The Faerie Queen through twice it is only a true lover of poetry that could achieve that."
Her father ensured, of course, that she was proficient in both Latin and Greek, and like him she has been a strong defender of the place of Classics in a liberal education.
Miss Leeper has served on many committees and contributed to Classics, education and scholarship, the Church, public debate on international affairs, and much else besides. She was a member of the Council of the League of Nations Union from 1928 until 1945. In 1944, she published a characteristically thorough and rigorous attack on what she saw as the British betrayal of Poland to the Soviet Union through territorial changes. Her booklet, Piecrust Promises? The "Atlantic Charter" and the Anglo-Polish Treaty, began: "I write this as a British subject who is deeply concerned at the policy my nation appears to be following, and as an Australian equally deeply concerned at the complete lack of interest that my fellow-countrymen seem to feel in that policy, and the indifference with which they seem to regard such things as broken promises and public repudiation of solemn pledges. Is national morality possible?Is there really such a thing as national honour? Can statesmen be expected to speak the truth?"
These are the words of a scholar of deep convictions, committed both to high moral values and to the public good, and unafraid to speak her mind.
And now, after a lifetime of scholarship, of Christian faith, and selfless service to others, Miss Leeper has led others in enabling this College to have a magnificent new organ - one that, like her father, has come to us from Dublin, designed and constructed by a graduate of Dr Leeper's alma mater, Trinity College, Dublin.
We honour this remarkable woman whom we are proud to claim as "scholar, benefactor, and devoted daughter of the College". We have no better way to do this than through the election by the College Council of Miss Leeper as a Fellow of Trinity. The College has no higher honour, and Miss Leeper was awarded it unanimously, enthusiastically, and with richly-deserved acclamation. Like her father before her, she has stood always'pro ecclesia, pro patria': and we today say thank you.'
She is one of the six eminent men and women honoured with a bronze "Gargoyle" sculpture on the eastern side of the Evan Burge Building.