In memoriam: Peter Betts CB, CBE

headshot of Betts

History, 1978


I first met Pete on our first day at Mansfield in October 1978, both of us feeling a bit lost, both of us trying not to show it. We would go on to become friends for the next 45 years until he died aged 64 in October 2023.

At the time Mansfield had a reputation (or so we told ourselves) for accepting gifted but slightly maverick students who had been rejected by other colleges. Pete was an outstanding example of this: coming from a working-class background and arriving via the 11-plus and Emanuel School in Battersea. He felt something of an outsider at Oxford but would go on to make more of a difference to the world than any of his contemporaries. A warm and funny man with a taste for relentless self-mockery, he was, by his own admission, not the most diligent of students. One of the extra-curricular highlights of his time at Mansfield came as the impresario behind two cabarets of music, comedy and dance held in the main hall.

After Oxford, Pete joined the fast stream of the civil service in 1984, starting in the Department of the Environment but also spending time in the Treasury and UK representation in Brussels. However, he found what would become his defining role working on climate change. Where most civil servants tend to rotate between jobs every two or three years, he became an expert in his field, returning in 2008 as the senior civil servant dealing with international climate change. He would go on to become a veteran of climate diplomacy after a series of UN Climate Change Conferences or COPs and for six years he was lead negotiator for both the UK and the EU. Pete was not a typical civil servant or diplomat but perhaps that was part of what made him so successful at both.

The crowning achievement of his career came at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. Following painstaking negotiations, the Paris Agreement was adopted: the first global treaty compelling governments around the world to act on the climate crisis, committing them to keep global temperatures well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and preferably below 1.5°C. As former Conservative Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben, said at his funeral, Paris would not have happened without Pete and a handful of others around the world.

Pete was also one of the founders of the Cartagena Dialogue, a group of negotiators from developed and developing countries who seek to work together to advance ambitious climate action. Though he was honoured with both a CBE and Companion of the Order of the Bath for his work, another measure of his contribution was the tributes that came from across the climate community in the wake of his death, including at the opening session of COP 28 in the UAE a day after his funeral.

Pete was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumour, in March 2022 and given a median life expectancy of 15 months. He met his diagnosis with typical humour and honesty and turned it into an opportunity to spend valuable time with his wife Fiona, deepen his many friendships and write a book on the climate and where we go from here. A celebration of his life in October 2023 was attended by climate change negotiators from around the world and by climate change ministers from all three political parties. He is survived by Fiona, his parents and his sister Susan.

Jules Birch (English, 1978)


In memoriam: Charles Brock


College Chaplain, 1965-1998


The loss of the Reverend Charles Brock, on 1 November 2023, was felt keenly at Mansfield.

For so many at College, it is hard to remember a time when Charles was not an active part of our community: arriving to study here for his MLitt Theology in 1967, perhaps little knowing how long and enduring his relationship with Mansfield would become. I can however imagine that his unending enthusiasm, vivacious personality, and great intellectual curiosity, marked him out as extraordinary even then.

It is with great affection and esteem that we now remember his many roles at Mansfield: postgraduate student; Chaplain; Theological Fellow; Director of Ministerial Education; member of the College Finance Committee; SCR Steward; Bancroft Fellow; and no doubt others unrecorded.

Charles and his late wife Carolyn, who for many years was the Director of the Mansfield Choir, were a central part of the College. Those present at the time recall that Mansfield’s progression from a theological seminary to an Oxford College with full University status, owes a great deal to Charles. Over this period, as a much respected and engaging Chaplain, he succeeded in bringing people together to achieve this change, helping steer the College through a potentially difficult and divisive period in its history.

As Professor Michael Freeden recalls (in Mansfield: Portrait of an Oxford College):

‘Charles Brock [was] a colourful and liberal Chaplain, who epitomised the atmosphere of change in his spiritual generosity and mischievous sense of humour. The ease of passage of the College into a new relationship with its religious origins was due in no small part to his vision.’

One of Charles’ great academic interests was in the relation of Theology to 19th- and 20th-century psychology and sociology, and in how sacred beliefs are relevant at an individual and societal level. This intellectual interest informed how he lived: as a scholarly teacher of many generations of Oxford students, who were as important to him as the congregants of the United Reform Church in Wheatley, which he led for many years. He set an example to successive ordinands and students at Mansfield on the impact of open and liberal theology to the wider community.

Mansfield is fortunate that Charles matched his generosity of spirit towards the College with very generous financial support too: from endowing the John Milton Fellowship in Politics, to faithfully supporting new building campaigns, the restoration of the College Organ and the refurbishment of the Library, as well as a generous legacy. Charles was one of our original Bancroft Fellows, Mansfield’s greatest honour for philanthropy.

Mansfield will miss Charles greatly and we extend our deepest sympathy to his widow Mary, and all his family.

Helen Mountfield KC, Principal, remembering Charles Brock:

‘A friend of mine – now a computer maestro – was a graduate student at Mansfield College in the mid-90s and filled-in from time to time in the College lodge. During that period, he married in the College Chapel, with Charles Brock officiating. Charles joined the wedding lunch and said he hadn’t enjoyed a wedding so much in a long time. Then he took the bridegroom aside and insisted on paying for everyone’s lunch.
‘That speaks volumes for Charles – his zest for social life, and his generosity. He and I met in the 1960s when we were both new to the College, and for decades to come I enjoyed his presence at the heart of the place in his social charisma, his expansive intellectual horizons and enthusiasms, and his unassertive religious intensity. He carried off his chosen role as an intellectual middleman with impeccable grace and friendliness. Typically, the College Politics Fellowship that he endowed commemorates not Charles Brock but John Milton, one of the figures he most venerated for intellectual range and ambition.
‘And he had a discriminating love of fine wine!’

Professor John Creaser, Emeritus Fellow in English, Mansfield College

‘I was saddened to learn of the death of Charles Brock. We established a good friendship in the years I was in Oxford (1957-63) and I have fond memories of the Brock family. More than that, it was Charles who officiated at my wedding service in the College Chapel in 1979 – so he had a lot to answer for!
‘The College is a different place now and it is right and proper that it should have grown from a modest nonconformist toehold on the mountain face of Anglican Oxford into the multi-disciplinary/multinational College that it is today. Charles played a significant role in that development, without losing the elements of friendship, humour and learning which have always been its characteristics.
‘Mansfield has lost a loving friend but gained a wealth of memory.’

Revd Peter Moth (Theology, 1960)

In memoriam: Robert Arthur Burns

Photo of Arthur Burns holding a drink in hand

Lecturer in History, 1988-1992


It is with great sadness that we note the death of Arthur Burns, distinguished historian and good friend of the College.

Arthur taught Modern British History as a College Lecturer between 1988 and 1992, supplementing his Mansfield salary with a job as sub-editor for the journal Past & Present. He had been an undergraduate and graduate student at Balliol, but quickly became attached to Mansfield and enthusiastic about its educational ethos. A dedicated and conscientious tutor, Arthur went on to have an eminent subsequent career that was no surprise to those who knew him from this time.

He moved to a permanent position at King’s College London in 1992. A leading figure in the development of History at King’s, he served as Head of Department for several years. In addition, Arthur made an innovative contribution to the digital humanities. He was co-creator of the pioneering online resource CCEd (Clergy of the Church of England Database), and, subsequently, the Academic Director of the transatlantic Georgian Papers Programme.

Arthur’s first book was a meticulously researched and imaginatively framed study of The Diocesan Revival in the Church of England c. 1800-1870 (Oxford, 1999). His wider interests in the dynamics of reform in Hanoverian Britain are reflected in the collected volume, co-edited with Joanna Innes, published as Rethinking the Age of Reform: Britain 1780-1850 (Cambridge, 2003). Arthur was also one of the editors (with Derek Keene and Andrew Saint) of St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004 (Yale, 2004), a book which won the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History. More recently, Arthur was working on Christian socialism, focusing imaginatively on a single parish (Thaxted in Essex) through the 20th century. In recognition of his immense contribution to Anglican scholarship, he was presented with the Lanfranc Award for 2022 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Arthur also promoted the discipline through professional service. As a member of its governing council, he represented the Royal Historical Society in negotiations with the Conservative Government over proposed changes to the national curriculum (an experience that tested even Arthur’s legendary patience and optimism). He also chaired the Higher Education Committee of the Historical Association and was President of the Church of England Record Society.

Public engagement increasingly lent a little glitter to that unheralded professional service. Arthur’s television appearances include Tony Palmer’s film about Gustav Holst (Holst: In the Bleak Midwinter), and the Patsy Kensit episode of Who Do You Think You Are? A search of YouTube will also reveal Arthur talking with Michael Jibson – who played George III in the musical Hamilton – in Windsor Castle.

Watching these clips, those who remember Arthur will recognise his modesty, generosity, and enthusiasm. Such characteristics could lead people to underestimate him. Arthur was certainly kind and supportive, but also quietly ambitious, fiercely hardworking, and intellectually both remarkably quick and thoughtful. He might protest, but Arthur was an inspiring person: an admirable model of kindness and intellect combined. He was much loved and will be much missed.

Arthur was completely devoted to his family. Our thoughts are with them, and especially with Sarah Stockwell, and their three children.

David Leopold, Associate Professor of Political Theory, and John Milton Fellow

In memoriam: Robert Ward Jackson

Geography, 1974


Robert Ward Jackson, born in 1956 and a graduate of Mansfield in Geography, died on 17 April 2023. After his College years, Robert trained as an accountant and pursued a career in corporate finance in the City. In July 1978 he married Caroline, and together raised their children, Annabel and Matthew, later welcoming four granddaughters. Robert maintained lasting connections with his Mansfield contemporaries, many of whom attended the Service of Thanksgiving held in June to honour his memory. He will be fondly remembered and deeply missed by family, friends, and colleagues.

Caroline Jackson

In memoriam: Zahir Jamal

photo of Zahir Jamal

English, 1968


Zahir Jamal died suddenly at his home in St Augustine, Florida on 29 June 2023, at the age of 73. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 2 February 1950, Zahir was sent to school in England at an early age. He eventually earned a place at Mansfield to read English, graduating with a first in 1972. He had very fond memories of his years at Mansfield. At that time, the College was quite small and he enjoyed being part of a community that felt in many ways like a close family. Mansfield also held a special place in his heart as it was there that he met his wife, Janet (St Hugh’s), and they were married by George Caird in the College Chapel in November 1973.

After a brief stint teaching at Nottingham University, Zahir moved to New York to embark on a 25-year career with the United Nations Development Programme. With New York as his base, he and his family also lived for some time in Bangladesh, where he worked on such pressing development issues as flood mitigation measures. For a while, Zahir and his family also lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked with the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Back in New York, he was instrumental in producing a series of Arab Human Development Reports, which were received to wide acclaim. His skills as a writer were often called upon for report writing, speech writing, and press releases.

In retirement, he was able to spend more time on his hobbies, which included technology, guitar playing, and motorcycle riding. He will be remembered as a gifted wordsmith, but above all, as a kind and generous friend, and will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Janet; two daughters, Leila and Hanna; and two granddaughters, Mina Lou and Sula Joan.

Anyone who would like to leave a message in memory of Zahir, please visit

Janet Jamal

In memoriam: Tom Leece

Mst Modern British & European History, 2011


Tom, the younger son of John and Kate Leece, attended Homefield Preparatory School, Sutton and later King’s College School, Wimbledon. He matriculated in 2008 in the first mixed cohort of men and women at St Hilda’s. He was as much the life and soul of library study breaks as college bops, which he often attended wearing a crocodile onesie, regardless of the theme. He graduated, having perfected his punting skills, with first class honours in History and with many friends to whom he remained close. He then completed a master’s in Modern British & European History at Mansfield, a year which he very much enjoyed.

At the start of his journalism career, as a freelance TV critic, Tom wrote in a review of Borgen for the Independent, that the character who said ‘No one wants to read about the EU. It’s too complicated and unsexy’ had ‘got an eye for the elephant in every newspaper’s editor room’.

Tom entered that room when he became a sub-editor in 2013 at the Daily Mail and moved to the London Evening Standard in 2014, and then to The Times in 2018. At the time of his death Tom was a chief sub-editor at The Times and a much loved and respected colleague. One co-worker of Tom’s defined being a sub-editor as ‘the ability to bring order to the disorganised elements of a raw story, the inquisitiveness to question every facet of every fact, the instinct to know when things need sorting out and the initiative to just get on and do it. A natural way with words and simple desire to make things correct. Or to define it more succinctly: Tom.’

Tom was very glad that his Master of Studies at Mansfield enabled him to continue to use his talents as a scholar of history. In 2021, he started a part-time PhD at Trinity Hall, Cambridge researching the awarding of knighthoods in the Caroline period, to further our understanding of the role of honours in British culture and society.

Aside from his intellectual powers, Tom had enormous generosity of spirit, attentive curiosity, and humour. He was dubbed by friends as ‘the funniest man in the room’.

When Tom asked the love of his life Jessica Ferguson to marry him in 2019, he thought their biggest challenge in the run up to their wedding would be catering to the guest who had specified Guinness as a dietary requirement. Five months later, the world went into lockdown on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. Reflecting on the intervening time at their wedding in August 2021, Tom said ‘I know this past year has been different things to different people, at different times: an upheaval or an inconvenience; a setback or a success; an epiphany, a tragedy; an ending, or a new beginning. To me it has chiefly been a test of hope. And what I’ve come to understand, more than I ever knew before, is that to be with you is to be hopeful. To be with you is to believe in the best in people and to believe in tomorrow. So, while tonight is about tonight, I’d like my last toast to be to tomorrow.’

Thomas Robert John Leece was born on 6 March 1990. He died in a road traffic accident on 11 September 2022, aged 32.

Jessica Ferguson

In memoriam: Mason Lowance

Mason Lowance

English, 1961


Mason Lowance, who died at Atlanta, Georgia, on 15 August 2022 after a distinguished career as an American academic, was one of Mansfield’s most devoted sons.

Having first majored in English & Religion at Princeton in 1960, he did a second BA in English Language & Literature at Mansfield in 1961, before returning to the States to complete a doctorate at Emory University in 1967. He then spent some 50 years teaching American literature for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His prolific career, initially focusing on Puritanism and later on slavery and abolitionism, included scores of articles, shorter publications, and some 13 books, notably The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England Literature from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists (Harvard, 1980) and A House Divided: The Antebellum Slavery Debates in America, 1776-1865 (Princeton, 2003). Years at Amherst were interspersed with temporary posts at other universities, including a term at Corpus Christi.

But Mansfield was always dear to him: his almost annual visits were times of celebration; and he became a generous supporter of the College, endowing annual prizes awarded to the strongest undergraduates in each of the three years reading English — named after the 1960s tutors he remembered.

Mason is survived by his wife, Susan Coltrane Lowance, and their two daughters and two grandsons.

John Creaser, Emeritus Fellow in English

In memoriam: Daniel Premaseelan Niles

photo of Daniel Premen

Theology, 1960


Dr D Preman Niles passed away peacefully on 3 August 2023 in Beckenham. Preman was born on 5 April 1937 to DT Niles and Dulcie Niles in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. He would often say that one of his proudest moments was when his friend described him as ‘representing five generations of faith’. Like his father before him (and his daughter after him), Preman dedicated his life to the service of God as a theologian, scholar and a teacher. He was a loving husband to his wife, Sherina Niles, who predeceased him on 2 August 2022, and with whom he enjoyed 59 years of marriage. He was also a wonderful father to his three children, Damayanthi, Radhika and Dharman.

Preman will be remembered as a visionary ecumenical leader who played a pivotal role in the development of Asian contextual and liberation theology. His passion was to mentor and inspire future generations in a global and ecumenical vision of the Church – a passion that took him to every corner of the world in furtherance of God’s mission. In 1991, he became the third General Secretary of the Council for World Missions (CWM) in London. He and his team worked tirelessly to ensure that the CWM was on firm footing both theologically and financially, so that it could continue to serve the larger Christian mission for the generations that followed. Prior to that, Preman served as the Director of the Ecumenical Process of Commitment of Churches to Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) at the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva Switzerland; Visiting Professor at the Christian Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis, USA; Associate General Secretary and Secretary of Theological Concerns at the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in Singapore; and Dean and Professor of Old Testament at the Theological College of Lanka (TCL), in Pilimathalawa Sri Lanka.

In his early 20s, Preman received a bachelor’s degree from Madras Christian College and a master’s from Oxford University (Mansfield College) prior to returning to Sri Lanka to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sherina. While teaching at TCL, Preman and Sherina welcomed their three children. Preman then continued his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary where he received a PhD in Old Testament in 1974.

After retiring from the CWM in 2002, Preman continued teaching as a visiting professor in several countries, including Hong Kong and the USA, as well as serving on the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. Sherina and he also enjoyed travelling, visiting Kenya, Indonesia, South Africa, China and Israel to name just a few. In the last year of his life, Preman came to the United States to spend time with his children and grandchildren. He spoke frequently of missing his wife and often stated, ‘she will call me to join her when the time is right’. One year and 12 hours after Sherina’s passing, she called her husband to join her with their Lord.

Preman is survived by his three children, Damayanthi Niles, Radhika Niles and her husband, Richard Hopkins, Dharman and his wife, Sohini Roy, two grandchildren, Anders and Meera, and four great grandchildren. Preman also leaves behind a large extended family and numerous friends, whom he loved dearly. And we all loved him, despite his somewhat curmudgeonly disposition at times.

Damayanthi Niles, Radhika Niles and Dharman Niles