Since the establishment of the Virginia Program at Oxford in 1967, Mary Baldwin College’s presence in the United Kingdom has flourished. The fruits of that relationship are tangible today, not only through students who take advantage of the continuing summer study opportunity but also within the community of Oxford Program alumnae who now call the U.K. home. One ex-pat, Martha Gates-Mawson ’78, shares her own story and checks in with three other alums who caught the British bug.
In early June of 1967, a Pan Am flight left JFK for Heathrow. A group of Mary Baldwin College students were among the passengers, accompanied by English professor Ben Smith and his wife Lily. My father, political science professor Robbins Gates, my mother Carol, my 9-year-old sister Katie, and I, then 11, were also on the flight. It was the inaugural summer for what is now known as the Virginia Program at Oxford. My family tagged along for the cost of the chartered tickets, but it was the Oxford program that brought us all together for the flight. For more than 40 years, the summer study abroad program has continued — in different guises and with different names — providing Mary Baldwin students with an extraordinary opportunity to study at one of the world’s most respected universities. For a handful of alumnae, the experience in England was the jumping off point for a life-changing decision to make the move across the pond.
My only association with the Oxford program was that flight in 1967, but Mary Baldwin allowed me to fulfill academic and personal wishes that led me to a life in Scotland. As a student, I put together my own major in British literature, history, and theatre and in my junior year, I attended the Higher Education in Europe program in Bath. I adored my year there and although it took me 22 years, I moved to England in 2000. Four years later, a trip north of the border brought me to my heart’s true home in Scotland. I moved there in 2007 with my English husband Chris, and after a brief stint back in Virginia, we are now living with my daughter, her husband, and 19-month-old granddaughter in Kirkcaldy. Chris is a landscape photographer and I design and make jewelry. We couldn’t be happier. I know that where I am and who I’ve become came about because Mary Baldwin allowed me to reach for my dreams. I think, for so many of her students — including the three with whom I spoke — that is the greatest gift the college gives.
Ann Merrill Gray ’80
Gray, who earned degrees in English and Spanish, now lives in the picturesque English medieval market town of Ludlow, not far from the Welsh border. Gray and her husband Clive own and operate Richardson & Gray Ltd., a company that operates tours to Europe, primarily for choirs and church groups from the United States. They specialize in week-long residences for choirs in the cathedrals of England, conduct church pilgrimage tours of the U.K. and Ireland, and lead continental choral tours. Clive and Ann also organize tours of World War I and World War II battlefields. This activity finds them out and about quite a bit, but always happily returning to Ludlow and their life there. Gray’s experience in the Oxford program had a huge influence on her choice to live in England. “My six weeks at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, cemented my tendencies toward advanced Anglophilia. It took me another 20 years to make it over here, but the summer program set the stage.”
Melissa Ford Holloway ’99
Holloway lives in London with her husband Richard and is a medical copywriter at TBWA/Paling Walters, a healthcare communications company. In 1998, Holloway participated in the Oxford program, studying English Reformation history, which brought together her knowledge of religion and theology with her keen interest British history. In 2001, Holloway returned to Oxford after earning her master’s degree in theology at Sewanee: The University of the South. Her initial plans to remain in the U.K. changed when her career path led her to medical communications. She moved to the San Francisco Bay area, but Holloway never felt at home there and missed her friends abroad. “After considerable soul searching, in 2007 I took advantage of a no-longer-available work visa that allowed me to find a job on my own terms. Within six months, I was set to move to London. Three weeks after I started my job here, I met Richard. In September 2010 we were married in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford.” After staying in London for a few more years, the Holloways’ plans are to raise a family in the English countryside.
Laura Hedrick ’07
Hedrick lives in St. Andrews, Scotland, where she attends the university (famous now for its association with Prince William and Kate Middleton) and works on her PhD research on European perceptions of Scots, 1560–1714. She attended the Virginia Program at Oxford to focus on English history but instead found herself wandering off the beaten path. There, she found a real interest in the history of Scotland. “Although Scottish history was never taught at MBC, it was this experience that encouraged me to explore and move forward with my passion,” she said. “I can’t imagine studying history without the Scottish perspective now.” Hedrick says she feels more at home in Scotland than anywhere else she has lived. Her supervisor at St. Andrews has introduced her to hill walking — the British equivalent of hiking — and, among her other accomplishments, Hedrick can now count climbing Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the U.K.
The Oxford Program — a combination of independent study, lectures, and small group discussion — still draws students from six Virginia colleges to spend six weeks living and learning together in the lively, historic town of Oxford, England. This year’s group of students will study at St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, from July 4 to August 13.
- Gates-Mawson '78