Roger Smith Retirement Dinner

18th July 2018

Prof Smith

Magdalen College held a dinner at the Law Society in London on 5th July for all alumni who read or now practise Law. The event marked the retirement of Professor Roger Smith who has been a Law Fellow at College for 44 years.

Speeches were given by Magdalen President Professor Sir David Clary, Simon Davis (1978), Vice-President and President-elect of the Law Society, Professor Roderick Bagshaw, Tutorial Fellow in Law, and Professor Roger Smith.

After dinner Professor Smith was presented with a silver tun from the Law Fellows and alumni.

Below are some memories of Professor Smith shared by those who were invited to the dinner:

“I studied law from 1981 to 1983 and although I eventually fled law for journalism, I have warm memories of Roger, Colin Tapper and John Feltham trying to drum legal principles into our heads. In the last month or so before final exams, it all came together, and I remember a long walk with Roger – a couple of circuits of Addison’s Walk – having a brilliant discussion about the law and public policy. The tutorial method may be cumbersome and, in the view of some, outdated, but I benefited enormously from it because of the dedication of great scholars like Roger Smith.”

“I knew Roger well for the first 15 years of his Fellowship, as I was a Law Fellow until 1990 at St Catherine’s College, Magdalen’s neighbouring college (although the colleges were at that time not always the friendliest of neighbours!). Since I had been an undergraduate at Magdalen in the 1960s and knew many of Roger’s colleagues, we had a lot in common and I formed a warm friendship with him. We were also Finals examiners together for a couple of years in the early 1980s, and I admired his efficiency as Chairman of Examiners in one of those years. Chairing a body of independent-minded, and sometimes obstinate, academics requires a skilful blend of firmness and flexibility, and Roger displayed this very effectively. He was clearly devoted to Magdalen, was liked and admired by his pupils, and was in every way a model Oxford tutor. To have discharged the duties of an Oxford tutor for 44 years is a remarkable achievement.”

“In my BCL year (1978-9), the College tutors for the BCL students were John Morris, Colin Tapper and “Digger” Feltham (as well as Jack Beatson from Oriel), so I don’t think any of us had much to do with Roger over the course of our studies. However, we were told to speak to him if any of us were called in for viva voce examinations so he could help us prepare. When I found my name on the viva list I was a bit panicked and went straight round to his rooms (where he was conducting a tutorial) only for him to say “I have been instructed to inform you that your viva is not one for which you need to prepare”. These elliptical words (which is all he said to me) were how I first learned I had won the Vinerian scholarship that year – although after I walked away from Roger’s door and waited for my viva I did wonder a few times whether I might have misunderstood what he was telling me.
Having attended an Australian Vinerian Scholars Dinner a few years ago, I understand winners of the scholarship are now informed in a different fashion. That is probably just as well, although my congratulatory viva was ultimately quite an enjoyable experience. However, I have always remembered Roger’s words to me as emblematic of an Oxford era that has long passed.”