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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Vicky Neale 1984–2023  

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    12 May 2023

    The community at Murray Edwards was greatly saddened by news of the death of Dr Vicky Neale, a much-loved former Fellow of the College, passionate champion of mathematics – especially for girls - and inspirational teacher. 
    Vicky’s warmth, humour and vivid personality left an indelible imprint on the College, while her advocacy for girls’ study of mathematics saw her lead the campaign for Murray Edwards to become the venue for the European Girls’ Maths Olympiad in 2012. 
    Her research specialty was number theory, and her 2017 book Closing the Gap: The Quest to Understand Prime Numbers brought her public profile as a mathematics expert. 
    Vicky, who died aged 39 on 4 May 2023 after a long illness, joined the College in October 2009 as a Bye Fellow & Director of Studies in Maths, and became a Supernumerary Fellow in October 2010.  She was awarded her PhD in 2011, and the following year was appointed as Senior Teaching Associate in Maths and, as a result, elected to an Official Fellowship. From 2013 to 2014, when she left Cambridge to take up a post at Balliol College, Oxford, she sat on the College Council. 
    College President Dorothy Byrne said: ‘Vicky was a brilliant mathematician, a vibrant and much-loved member of our community and a passionate advocate of girls and women in mathematics. She was a great communicator whose enthusiasm for her subject inspired schoolgirls and university students alike.’ 
    Many members of the College Fellowship paid warm tributes to Vicky, each with individual memories of her personality and love of her subject. Dr Rachel Polonsky, Vice-President, said: ‘Vicky was an exceptionally vivid person. She radiated strength and brilliant intelligence and threw herself into College life. One always felt happy seeing her bound up to the lunch table.’ 

    Dr Ruchi Sinnatamby, Fellow in Radiology, also recalled conversations over lunch on ‘a myriad of different subjects’. She said: ‘Vicky was someone with a real gift for making genuine connections with individuals. I really enjoyed her company and would always seek her out at College social events for that very reason. And of course she was such a gifted mathematician and teacher – but she wore her brilliance very lightly which is what made her so accessible and such good fun.’  
    For History Fellow Dr Kate Peters, Vicky ‘stood out as very special... She was a wonderful colleague: funny, warm, obviously brilliant, kind and with an enormous zest for life, but at the same time very gentle and unassuming.  Her humanity shone through everything she did – this is such a sad loss.’ 
    Dr Hatty Harris, Emeritus Fellow in Biological Sciences, highlighted not only Vicky’s ‘lively enthusiasm’ and intelligence but her passion for teaching in particular. ‘Her love of mathematics and creative approach to teaching were very evident to colleagues, and her presence was a great stimulus... She will be a great loss to the engaging of young people with mathematics.’ 
    During her time at Murray Edwards, Vicky not only taught but became involved in a range of other aspects of College life. She loved the famed Murray Edwards gardens, with their wilderness areas, blossom and vegetable patches grown especially for the use of students. Dr Leo Mellor, Fellow in English, recalled how Vicky had ‘jointly argued for - and then partly dug - the pond in the Fellows' Garden with me’. 
    College Librarian Kirstie Preest, too, worked with Vicky beyond the classroom. ‘She was a lovely colleague and had a real rapport with the students. I remember her doing lots of maths puzzles and crafts which they enjoyed.’ 
    Vicky was often seen in College in a distinctive sailor’s jumper, and was always smiling, said Dr Fran Henson, Fellow in Veterinary Medicine. ‘She will genuinely be so sorely missed.  Her enthusiasm and positive outlook absolutely shone through and she was a real role model, showing our students - and so many other students - that girls can do Maths.’ 
    For Dr Elsa Strietman, Emeritus Fellow in Dutch, Vicky was ‘an immeasurably bright star’ lost too young. ‘Her relatively short time in College left nothing but good memories and all who had the benefit of her teaching, her inventivity, her integrity, her sparkling mind cannot do other but rage, rage against the dying of this light... Vicky’s short life illuminated so many others.’ 
    Vicky’s loss is also deeply felt at Balliol, where she was first a lecturer and a Supernumerary Fellow from 2016. Dame Helen Ghosh, Master, wrote: “Vicky Neale was an inspirational mathematician and a brilliant teacher, as devoted to her students as they were to her.’ 

    Photo credit: Jo Cobb (former Head Gardener, Murray Edwards)