New Horizons

Ann Kennedy

Ann Kennedy is an active New Horizons member, and initially joined us almost 10 years ago to get involved in the Italian conversation class. She had previously learnt the language when one of her sons married an Italian girl, whose parents spoke no English. She now frequents the Shakespeare and French classical drama class, along with the cryptic crossword class, and is looking forward to trying some of our new classes, such as the non-fiction writing class, that will start this term. She has found the lip-reading class useful and enjoys chair yoga.

Ann moved to Chelsea just twenty years ago after the death of her husband. They had previously lived for thirty years in Canterbury, where her husband was a professor of Economics at the University of Kent.

Ann was born in Wimbledon and a child during WWII. She recalls her most emotional memory actually happening in the Phoney War in 1938, when she felt real panic at being sent to Somerset for two days in a practice evacuation. She begged her mother not to let her go. When the real evacuation came the panic had gone. She was at a boarding school in Kent where her godmother was headmistress and the school was moved further afield to Wiltshire. This period coincided with the death of her father when she was twelve. Although she felt being at boarding school at this time was helpful, because she was occupied, it is her most vivid memory of the time. Her next school was Downe House in Berkshire. Significant memories of the war were Dunkirk and D-Day, and watching the V1's fly over her home, hoping that their engines wouldn’t cut out while they were overhead. One of the first V2s killed her school friend who lived in the Royal Hospital.

Ann met her husband Charles when she was in her 30's while on a cruise. Before meeting him she enjoyed a career as a research chemist after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in chemistry.

From a young age Ann’s interest in science had been clear and she assumed that she would choose to study either science or engineering. Her father had been a Professor of Geology at Imperial College and her older brother was also a chemist. Although the ratio of women to men on her chemistry course was about one in ten, Ann felt that the university was encouraging more women to study science. After Somerville she joined the Medical Research Council to work in a small research unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital which was at that time pioneering the treatment of paralysed patients. She next moved to a research unit in the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge. This was an exciting period: Francis Crick and Jim Watson had just solved the structure of DNA there and Ann was doing crystallographic work on the structure of proteins.

After marrying, Ann moved from Cambridge to Oxford because of her husband’s job as Fellow of Queen’s College teaching economics. When he was made Professor of Economics at the University of the West Indies they moved to Jamaica with their small baby. Here their other three children were born. Ann initially felt uprooted and campus life was sometimes "a bit too easy". Although she was aware that her lifestyle could perhaps be seen as desirable to some - living on a beautiful island in close proximity to other university families – Ann didn’t always enjoy the need to socialise and host guests frequently. To this day she often prefers her own company. Despite the initial difficulties in adjusting Ann was “in the end quite sorry to leave” the West Indies when the family returned after five years to England.

Before moving to Chelsea, Ann already knew the area well as friends and her parents-in-law had lived there. Through their stories and their connection to the art scene of Chelsea she has witnessed many of the changes that have happened to the area through her lifetime. The most notable change to her was that Chelsea became "smarter" in the 60’s, probably due to the influence of Mary Quant. It seemed to become more of a "young people’s place", things seemed more vibrant, and a nightlife started to develop. Before this period it was more bohemian and it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for somebody to be seen out in their pyjamas! Locals would network with their neighbours at the Phene Arms, and the shops of Chelsea seemed more useful and more varied.

When Ann’s children were older and she was in her early 50’s, she decided to train as a teacher. She initially pursued this mainly as a way to re-enter the education system and refresh her knowledge of science and maths. However, she ended up teaching in a grammar school for around five years. This wasn’t an experience that she particularly enjoyed, as the school system was so different from what she had been through herself, and although the children were well behaved the large class sizes were difficult to adjust to.

It was when Ann’s mother-in-law had a stroke and needed care that she left her teaching career to look after her for the further six years that she lived. It was a difficult time, as her mother-in-law could not speak or swallow, but Ann says "she was an amazing woman".

Ann feels that living in a vibrant city like London has played an important role in keeping her active and engaged as she has become older. She frequently visits museums and galleries to see the latest exhibitions, and goes to concerts and operas, much appreciating that she can access everything easily by bus or walking. She has been engaged with Dementia Arts, after she realised she was struggling with some memory loss, and is a member of Holland Park’s Health Walks where she meets up with a group of walkers on a weekly programme of walks around some of London's parks. She is also involved with Kensington and Chelsea’s Forum for Older Residents.

Ann embraces technology “up to a point”. Ann's son set her up with an email address some years ago and she also has a smartphone that she makes use of when necessary. Ann was actually the first to respond via email to our mailing list when we asked for members to come forward for our members’ blog page! She uses the internet to have quick access to key facts, or biographical details of musicians or artists, and for someone with occasional memory lapses this is “so useful”. She steers clear of what she is not interested in (Facebook etc.) but remembers the time when she was working with one of the first computers, EDSAC, in her research in the 1950s. At this point, when the computer was first revealing how it could speed up calculations and save vital time, the computer was considered "a sacred thing" where they "mustn't waste a second of it's time".

Ann has continued to come for lunch in the New Horizons café over the summer break and attended our summer BBQ this past Friday. She believes the variety in the New Horizons programme is important to our success, as if there is one class that doesn't work out, there is always something else to try.

At the end of our chat Ann wanted to add that she has "been very lucky to have had such a lovely life" and that she is indeed still very much enjoying it!