Monna Besse: 16 November 1928 – 16 September 2021

We are sad to share the news that our Honorary Fellow and the last surviving child of St Antony’s founder, Monna Besse, passed away on 16 September at the age of 92.

Monna had an association with the College from its inception, having worked for Bill Deakin, the first Warden, as his secretary from shortly after the College was founded in 1950, and formed a close and lasting friendship with him and his wife Pussy. She had wanted to study philosophy at Edinburgh, but her mother, Hilda Besse insisted that she do a shorthand and typing course, which she heartily disliked.  Although, in her own opinion, an incompetent Secretary, she said that she found Bill Deakin very patient with her. 

Monna married Ian Adie, then a student at St Antony’s, in 1951, and had four children, Antony, Alistair, Chantal and Annabelle.  In 1951, she moved on to help Dorothy Greenland, the College Secretary, in the prefabricated hut which served as the Bursary. A good sportswoman, Monna enthusiastically got involved with sporting events at the college alongside other college staff.  During Ralf Dahrendorf’s time as Warden, Monna supported the establishment of the French Friends of St Antony’s, attending meetings in Paris alongside representatives of the Governing Body and the Bursar to publicise the Deakin Fellowship and the scholarships offered by the British Council.

She was made an Honorary Fellow in 1996 and remained a stalwart supporter of St Antony’s throughout her life, visiting the College regularly.  She shared her father’s vision of what St Antony’s was created to do and always made a point of being involved and getting to know new Wardens as they came and went. She often drove up from London to attend events and lectures.

Her commitment to the College is manifest in her generous donations, in particular the major donation that she contributed to the construction of the Founder’s Building which was opened in 1999.

Monna had a house in the south of France – like the Deakins – and also a flat in Paris where she owned and managed an art gallery. Her gallery in Paris, the Galerie Mazarine in the heart of the galleries quarter of the VI-ème arrondissement was, indeed, something she particularly enjoyed and was dedicated to. She transformed what was a tiny space into a focus of first class contemporary graphic work – some painting, but mostly drawings, prints and engravings – by an eclectic range of contemporary artists producing both abstract and representational work. Perhaps the most popularly well-known of these was Günter Graß. Monna acquired a solid reputation among her peers, and discerning customers, both for the uncompromising integrity of her approach and the quality of the artists the Galerie Mazarine chose to represent. Typically, her choices were not based on commercial potential but on her own appreciation. 

Those who knew her well, describe Monna Besse as a strong character, a fierce friend and very good company. The attached photograph  was taken probably in the 1970s or early 1980s on Hampstead Heath.

Where next?