Tributes by Directors Michael Kauffmann, Eric Fernie, Jim Cuno and Deborah Swallow with Elaine’s comments from her speech at her leaving party in 2006

Eric Fernie, Elaine Connolly, Deborah Swallow, Michael Kauffmann
Eric Fernie, Elaine Connolly, Deborah Swallow, Michael Kauffmann

A pivotal figure
Elaine was appointed in 1988 in the Autumn. Almost as soon as she arrived, preparation for the move of the Institute to Somerset House, which finally took place in the summer of 1989, [started to gather pace.] She was therefore able to show her worth from the start, generally masterminding the move of the Director’s office to the Institute’s new home.

Elaine: I spent the first week sitting on the floor in what is now the Finance Office with a notebook and telephone, pretending I was in the Director’s Office, whilst Michael, on the floor above, sat at Blunt’s desk fending off a queue of staff who were complaining about the mice… Then there was a queue of mice complaining about the staff…

She was, as she remained for the next eighteen years, extremely hard-working and efficient, deeply conscientious and always calm, helpful and good tempered even under considerable pressure. Being always willing, she was given more and more to do over the years and, indeed, became a pivotal figure in the running of the Institute. For light relief, she undertook the task of working for an extra-mural diploma in the history of art and then went on to take an Open University degree, which she gained in 2002.

After my retirement, I was made more fully aware of yet another of her qualities, absolute discretion. When I tried to persuade her to tell me something about Eric Fernie, the new Director, I got short shrift. ‘What I can tell you about Eric is that he starts work at 8.30. You never got in before ten.’ A blatant untruth, of course, but it showed her mettle.
Michael Kauffmann, 1985-95

A lInchpin
Elaine was without a shadow of doubt a linchpin in maintaining the good order of The Courtauld. She played this role from the most important aspects to the most everyday: whether arranging an emergency meeting of the Board, seeing that the Gallery would open for a reception earlier than planned, welcoming those who needed to see the Director, including handling them when there were delays, from a student who had come about a problem with their course to the Chairman there for the weekly meeting. Her openness and approachability were magically combined with complete discretion. She was a provider of alcohol for the masses: if an unplanned special occasion needed it Elaine always knew where it could be found, and had the key to match.

One day Eric invited the Queen Mother to lunch in the Gallery. We were all very excited and rushed to greet her car, curtsy….. that’s me, not Eric….. and help her into the lift. Unfortunately, on returning to my office, I discovered that my handbag had been stolen. Could it be that Her Majesty was just a decoy for a gang of posh thieves? Or was that just his Research Assessment Exercise?

And finally I would like to thank her for her calm and friendly presence, throughout my Directorship, but especially during those intense days leading up to The Courtauld’s establishment as a College.
Eric Fernie, 1995-2003

Then along came Jim Cuno, who rushed in in January 2003 and rushed out in July 2004. He was a whirlwind and there was never a dull moment in the office... nor even when he was out of it.

Charming and Strikingly Beautiful
My lasting image of Elaine is as a modest and charming, strikingly beautiful woman, who ran the Director’s office with ease and efficiency and a marked sense of humour. 

She’d sweep in in the morning, with books and bags of things under her arms (our mail and biscuits and things like that), settle herself in the corner of the outer office, surrounded by telephone, computer, and piles of papers, and get to work.

She always knew just what to say to a governor, colleague, student, or donor. She was always polite, always discreet. She loved her children and grandchildren and of course her husband, Ray, with whom she went to rock concerts and distant, foreign countries (of which he wrote for newspapers while writing his novel or radio play).

Jim loved parties but he had some funny ideas, having once to be dissuaded from having a band play the bagpipes at the Graduation Ceremony.

And now she’s retired? I always imagined one retired out of a sense of overwhelming exhaustion and frustration, feeling neglected, embittered. That was never the case with Elaine. She was more than appreciated. She was held in the highest esteem by everyone, and was the object of great respect and warm affection.

Jim Cuno, 2003-4

But Elaine Did That
To capture Elaine in adequate words is not easy – for my first few weeks at The Courtauld in the early autumn of 2004, she was The Courtauld for me, a quiet, considerate presence, who held everything together as I leapt into the as yet unfamiliar world of higher education. There couldn’t have been a lovelier person to see as the first face in the morning, and, more worryingly and too often, the last face in the evening, as I dashed off to an exhibition opening and she sat at her desk still dealing with matters in hand.

With Michael, Eric and Jim, I never had to advise them which function to attend – which property to buy – or which dress to wear. But we all know Debby is simply amazing. A workaholic – she’s in the office from dawn until dusk and that’s just the weekend. Where does she find her energy?

But it was only much later that I really understood how much Elaine had been doing. Things just happened – without a glitch and with great style. No one ever questioned how, no one recognized in a conscious way what was going on. And then, in the dark days after her retirement, the realisation dawned. It all came out. ‘But Elaine did that!’ I would be told – again and again. To put it simply, Elaine was the person who not only did her job, but in addition did all those things that no one else could do!

Elaine is indeed to be congratulated for embracing a new life! I owe her my deepest thanks for all that she did for me and for the Institute – and for doing it with such grace, such generosity and such good humour. We miss you Elaine.

Deborah Swallow, 2004 to present