A Moseley Life: Mary Stopes-Roe

Wednesday, 16th April 2014

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Mary Stopes-Roe
Mary Stopes-Roe

Historian, Psychologist violin and viola player, member of a choir, two orchestras and a quartet, and family archivist but keeping your family’s history is no mean feat when your father was Barnes Wallis and your mother-in-law, Marie Stopes.

Age is certainly not withering Mary Stopes-Roe who moved to Moseley with husband Harry, a physics professor, who had accepted a job in the Extra Mural Department in Birmingham University in 1958.

“I was as, they say in the good old literature, brought to bed for child number four. So Harry had to come up here to look for houses by himself: and simply picked this one.

“We didn’t know Moseley at all. We were both southerners. I think we first looked in Edgbaston, I’m rather glad we didn’t go there. This is fairly near the university, not quite as expensive as Edgbaston, on a nice hilltop overlooking the world.

I thought the house was going to be awful. We came to look at it on a miserable November day. It was all painted dark brown and fairly depressing. But never mind. Here we were. All you need is a coat of paint.”

Once all four children were at grammar school, Mary took a second degree in Psychology. “I thought the subject would be rather interesting, and I didn’t want to dust the house for the rest of my life.”

She went on do a PhD, researching family interactions and parent-child perceptions, and the current conditions and experiences of immigrants originating in the Indian sub-continent, which became the book Citizens of This Country published in 1991.

“People said then (don’t forget we are going back more than two decades) that Asian children would rebel against their parents. I was interested in seeing: comparing attitudes to rebellion between teenagers from an Asian background and their parents, and their agreement or disagreement on things like discipline, to their white British counterparts. I had a lovely Pakistani research assistant, Dr Shamim Mahmud, whose help was invaluable. The interesting thing about that research was the Asian families proved to have much less disagreement than the white. They wanted certain things quite strongly. They wanted to be able to say no if they didn’t want the bloke or young lady and they wanted to be allowed to argue with their parents. Provided they could have their say, they were happy to be, you know, guided.”

Mary continued as Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham till she retired in the early 90s. She had already started to sort out the family’s papers after her mother had died in 1986. “We had to clear up the whole shooting match which took ages because the place was packed with papers and bits and pieces: family history from my father’s side to say nothing of Harry’s mother’s papers. Marie Stopes was a campaigner for women’s rights and a pioneer in the field of family planning. I got very interested in the family history, all of it.

Mary spent a lot of last year at events that marked the 70th anniversary of the Dam Busters raid and her father’s invention of the Bouncing Bomb. She showed me a list of the 26 media appearances she made between March and June. How did it affect your life? “It’s gave me sciatica,” she laughed. “It was very cold last year. We were outside on airfields and what not or in hangers where it is always freezing. It was wonderful, I’m not complaining. It was a great honour.

“It’s started again this year, on a different tack of course. My father started off designing airships in 1914. It was the start of his aeronautical career”. Thankfully Mary has recovered from the sciatica and will be honoring her father’s memory as part of this year’s commemoration of the First World War. In an alternative universe; I would be happy to grow older like Mary Stopes-Roe: busy, interested, active and packing as much into life as possible.