Posted on Facebook on May 17, 2013
Yesterday, the AUC Library had a memorial service for Lesley Tweddle, who sadly passed away earlier this year after a long and ferocious struggle with cancer. I attended the service, and even though I had not prepared a written text, I did say a few words. I am reproducing them below in loving memory of this great woman.
I joined AUC as an undergraduate student in 1981, a year after Mrs. Lesley (as I knew her) had. I remember meeting her in my very first week of my studies, as I joined the library as a student help and stayed there for the entire duration of my studies at AUC, i.e. for seven years, four for the BA, and 3 for the MA.
After finishing with AUC, I came up to Oxford and I believe I got a very good education there. But it was my seven years at AUC that provided me with what I now consider a very solid academic foundation. At the core of these seven years were excellent classes I took with some of the most brilliant teachers and professors, but more than anything else it was the seven magical years I spent in the library working as a librarian that truly transformed my life.
At the Library, I was trained and nurtured by an amazing group of librarians: Shahira ElSawy, Laurence Moftah, Hoda Elridi, Huguette Yaghmour. And Lesley Tweddle. They all took me under their wings and I suddenly felt that I have five new loving and caring mothers.
Mrs. Leslie was intimidating at first. Maybe because she was British and I felt shy speaking to her in English. She soon broke the ice, however, and revealed herself for what she was: witty, intelligent, caring and loving. I guess like many boys who were touched by Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, I found myself often thinking of her as such: a great teacher, who appears shy at first, but who can reach out and share with you her rich, magical world.
There are many, many moments that I remember fondly of Mrs. Lesley but two stick in my mind from my very early months in Reference Dept at the AUC Library where she worked. The first was when the office of the AUC President sent a request to the Library to come up with short bios of the names inscribed at the entrance of Oriental Hall. Mrs. Leslie gave me some of these names and told me to try and get as much information as I could about them. This was one of my very first research assignments at AUC, and I can now see that she was coaching me.
The second moment came shortly afterward. To train me as a reference librarian, I was asked to sit next to one of these women in their shifts at the Reference Desk and to see how they handled patrons’ questions. One day, Mrs. Lesley, probably thinking that I was ready to handle questions on my own, switched seats with me and told me that I should answer questions myself. I thought myself lucky to be able to answer the first question and to have given the patron the piece of information he was asking for. I was then surprised when she scolded me for what I had done. She explained saying that I am not supposed to do the research myself, or hand in the information on a platter. Rather, I was supposed to help the patron find the information himself, with some guidance from me. But most importantly, she told me how to “translate” a query from a patron to a meaningful reference question which can be answered using the Library’s resources. I think this was the single most important academic skill I learned at AUC, basically, how to conduct research.
I stayed in touch with Mrs. Lesley as best as I could after leaving AUC, and I remember very fondly a very sweet afternoon I spent with her and her husband in Oxford where we had lunch at the King’s Arms. In my repeated visits to Cairo, I would make a point of stopping by the Library and visit these amazing librarians to whom I owe a lot, and I would always cherish Mrs. Lesley’s conversations, brief as they sometimes were.
I do regret that over the past two years the revolution has distracted me so much as to be unaware of how seriously ill she was. I would have loved to visit her and listen to her kind words. M consolation is that I am confident she knew how much I loved and respected her.