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Celebrated the Reed experience

Florence Kerr Riddle ’51

A picture of Florence Riddle

Florence Kerr Riddle ’51, October 22, 2013, in Portland.

Granddaughter of Reed trustee James Kerr [1914–30], daughter of Katharine Kerr Riddle ’21 and Matthew Riddle ’17 [biology and health services 1917–41, regent 1947–51, trustee 1951–56], and sister to Elizabeth Riddle Jackson ’47, Florence was preordained to be a Reedite, she said in an interview in 2007. Which was just as well—for her, Reed was a paradise.

Florence participated in the outing club and musical groups. “I belonged to a chamber group, a recorder ensemble that also had a harpsichord and strings that played with it, and we performed in Sound Experiments, as they were called.” She fondly recalled hearing the work of student composer Bob Crowley ’49 and singing in the Commons after dinner, with guitar accompaniment most often provided by Warren Roberts ’48 or Gale Dick ’50 (“who for me is a personification of the Reed ideas”).

Florence was elected to student council and was a Reed Traveler in her senior year, visiting local high schools to speak with students about the college. But more than these associations, Florence said that the interactional style of learning at Reed, including humanities conferences and Reed Unions, really inspired participation and encouraged personal development. “What happened when I went to Reed is that my world suddenly became much larger. Even before I left the country and Portland at the end of my Reed years, very unexpectedly I’d already changed my whole way of thinking about the world through what happened to me in the humanities courses. For me, the academic experience was really the crucial thing. I loved it.” Her best friend was Barbara Morris Dickey ’51, and she valued the teaching of many faculty members—“they were all stellar as far as I’m concerned”—including Ralph Berringer [English 1946–53]; Dick Jones [history 1941–86], “a master of the conference method”; Frank Jones [English 1949–56], “who introduced me to the concept of comparative literature”; and Victor Chittick [English 1921–48], “one of Reed’s most splendid people.”

Florence graduated with a BA in general literature and earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study in England at the University of Bristol. She then spent a summer at a university in Germany, working on modern language proficiency in anticipation of a degree in comparative literature. The next year she entered Yale and was severely challenged by unrelenting prejudice directed toward her as a woman. Having experienced education at Reed in the setting of a community of scholars, she found the exclusion all the more disheartening. She stayed one year and completed an MA in 1957.

She then taught English at a private school in Providence, Rhode Island, and from there went to New York, where she worked as an editorial assistant in a publishing house for four years. As in Europe, she met up with many Reedites in New York. She had a Reed roommate and Reed friends who also had Reed roommates. Still intent on completing an advanced degree in comparative literature, she enrolled at the University of Washington, where Frank Jones was teaching. He served as her adviser and she earned a PhD in 1968. Then she returned to Portland, where she taught at Portland State before taking an assignment at the University of Victoria. She earned an applied linguistics degree in 1983 at Portland State, and then taught English to second-language learners.

She did freelance writing, primarily about Portland’s history and its wild spaces, including the Reed canyon. She volunteered for her church, and for local organizations on issues of land-use planning and the interface between nature and culture. Through classes at Portland Community College, she gained proficiency in using a computer, paving the way for a job as an administrative assistant at Oregon Health & Science University, which would provide some financial security in retirement.

“I think the term ‘Reed experience,’ or ‘Reed personality,’ does have a meaning to me,” Florence said. “It has to do with that person who has experienced himself or herself as a nonconformist without the opportunity for self-realization within a conventional situation, and then feels a real liberation at being listened to, and is free to make a decision and choose a direction, and not only encouraged to but expected to, and challenged to really exert and to learn.” Survivors include Elizabeth; brother Matthew Riddle II; nieces Sarah Riddle, Ann Riddle, Kate Jackson-Keil, and Rachel Jackson; and nephews Matthew Riddle III and James Riddle.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2014

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