The Inklings Remembered: A Conversation with Colin Havard

Article excerpt

DURING THE FALL 2011 SEMESTER, OXFORD NATIVE and current resident of St. Louis Colin Havard visited the campus of St. Louis University. Colin is the son of Dr. Robert E. "Humphrey" Havard, who was the personal physician of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and a member of the Inklings. Colin joined English Instructors and hosts Justin T. Noetzel and Matthew R. Bardowell, as well as a hundred guests, for a "pub talk," an informal discussion and storytelling session that was co-organized by Thomas Rowland and the Woode-walkers Medieval Studies Group and sponsored by the English Department and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at St. Louis University. Over a few cold pints of Guinness, Havard discussed his childhood in Oxford, his memories of the Inklings and their social gatherings, and his father's personal interactions with the Lewises, Tolkien, and others. While Colin realized at a young age that his father had literary celebrities as patients, Dr. Havard simply saw these men as his friends and did not realize how famous Lewis and Tolkien in particular would become. Both authors mention Dr. Havard extensively in their letters, and Lewis often divided the Inklings along religious lines and differentiated Havard and Tolkien as the Catholics of the group. Both Lewis and Tolkien recognized Dr. Havard's astute medical knowledge, but more tellingly, they commented on his devout faith, his skill in caring for people, and his role as a close friend.

JTN: Colin, would you please to introduce yourself the St. Louis University community?

CH: I grew up in Oxford and came to the United States in 1964 and have lived here ever since--thirty of those years being here in St. Louis and fifteen in New York. I've had a very varied existence--I went to college in Oxford, when I first came to St. Louis I was a teacher at the St. Louis Priory School, and when I went to New York I switched careers and became a computer consultant in my middle years. And I am now, I'm thankful to say, retired. What I'm going to be talking about today is memories of my adolescence when I was a young man, and that's over fifty years ago, and in a way it's a study in memory--what do I remember, and how much of what I remember is something that I have created for myself, and how much is really there.

MRB: Colin, your father Robert Havard was a physician at Oxford, and I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how he came to take that position at that place at that time?

CH: Going back before my birth, in the early nineteen twenties, my father was the son of a Church of England priest. He obtained a scholarship to Oxford and studied Chemistry and then went to his father and said, "I'd like to go on and become a physician." And his father said, "Well, that's a very nice idea, but I have no more money, and there's no way that we can do this." And so my father, in a way that would be totally impossible today, in England or anywhere else, figured out a way to get what he wanted. He went to a medical school in London and said to them, "You are looking for a biochemistry teacher, and I obtained a first class degree in biochemistry from Oxford. I am prepared to teach biochemistry in your school if you will teach me medicine." And so he in fact did an exchange, and he obtained his first medical degree from Guy's Hospital in London. And then, just to make things a little more complicated, he went back to Oxford and said, "I understand that you normally require doctoral students to attend the university as well as prepare their dissertation, but I would like to apply for a doctorate and I'd like you to accept my dissertation on its own." The university authorities agreed, and ultimately, when his dissertation was finished, he received an Oxford doctorate. Now, that's simplifying things a lot, because at various points he also studied at Cambridge. At any rate, he was then an academic, a biochemical physician teaching in a university in Leeds, and after all that effort, decided that he did not like academic medicine. …


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