Ronald Harry Bathgate (Eulogy from his wife, Claudia Bathgate-Starr)
Ronald was born on 17 December 1932 at the West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth. He died on 3 June 2018 at the age of 85 at King’s College Hospital, near his home in Herne Hill in London. After many decades spent living abroad and extensive travel during his life, his life ended only 13 miles from his birthplace. About 4 hours to walk, but a lifetime to live.
Ronald was born to unique parents who passed on strong traits and ideals that came to shape his character. His father, Harry Shiels Bathgate (1887-1963), was from Mount Vernon in Glasgow, and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. He lived by all accounts a highly eccentric existence as a naturalist and researcher into nutrition and herbalism. He set him a lifelong example of how to live and eat naturally, and shared his quietly expressed ideals of freedom and independence.
His mother, Fanny Fine (1896-1985) was born in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1906, at the age of 10, she traveled with her mother, father and younger sisters and brother to Scotland to escape the threat of the Russian progroms. Her roots can be traced back to the esteemed 17th century Jewish scholar Shabtai ben Meir Ha-cohen (“the Shach”), and his father Meir Katz. His mother took care of him beautifully, encouraged him, followed keenly his endeavours and enabled his many talents to unfold. She imparted an open mind, and respect for people of all cultures and religions. She also nurtured ways of living naturally and as a vegetarian, continuing the traditions of her husband and his family.
Ronald spent his early childhood in Hounslow, to the West of London. He went to a small private school there, run by two genteel ladies. He remembers being aware that his mother feared negative influences from ‘common’ little boys, and refused to allow him to read ‘violent’ comics like Micky Mouse. Even at the age of 5, Ronald said he got the feeling that this was taking the search for gentility a bit too far.
They lived in Hounslow until the war broke out. His parents’ marriage broke up around this time, and he moved with his mother to Darwen and later Blackburn in Lancashire. From the age of 10, he attended the Darwen Grammar School and at 12 he won a scholarship to Wycliffe College in Gloucestershire, at that time one of the two boarding schools in the country that catered for vegetarian pupils. Even with the scholarship his mother couldn’t afford the fees, so she appealed to the headmaster, the son of the school’s founder, to give Ronald a chance of a good education, saying that he needed the discipline. The headmaster agreed.
Ronald remembered himself as a quiet, good little boy, despite liking to run wild in the woods and moors around Darwen, walking through streams with his shoes on and sliding down snow -slopes on his school blazer for want of a sledge.
At Wycliffe College Ronald enjoyed many activities besides his studies, including rugby, and looks back very fondly on his time at the school. His mother loved to come to Wycliffe at Speech Day and followed Ronald’s activities and achievements, if not in person at least by letter.
Ronald began his degree in Natural Sciences at St. John’s College in Cambridge in 1951, and thereafter began a PhD in Physical Chemistry. His mother had moved to Cambridge during his time at Wycliffe. It was a city they both loved, where they found intellect and refinement. They felt it their birthright to inherit the spiritual and cultural richness that make man great, and were driven to shape their own ideologies based on learning.
Ronald and his mother wrote to each other regularly for nearly 40 years. It was a duty his mother expected from him, but also an opportunity to reflect on all his ideas and endeavours. She was an unfailingly loving listener to him, who never judged him harshly. His mother had many heroes like writers and political thinkers. Ronald didn’t tend to have heroes, except maybe his mother. He had the tendency to stand on his own two feet, without relying on the guidance of others, never being afraid to disagree or question anyone’s ideas or advice, regardless of their status.
Ronald spent a year off during his PhD in Denmark, the first time he took active steps to pursue his developing interest in languages. He studied Danish language at a folk high school in Askov folk high school in Jutland. While there, he met Els, a young Dutch woman. They married in 1957 and returned to Cambridge together, where they lived on Bateman Street, coincidentally the same street where Claudia, his second wife, lived when he met her years later. His daughter Lucy was born in the spring of 1958. Ronald completed his PhD shortly after this.
Ronald took his first job with ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) as a research chemist in Middlesbrough, where he moved together with his Els and Lucy. Unhappy with the heavy use of x-rays there, and with his wife longing to return to the Netherlands, they moved to Eindhoven shortly after this, where he took a job as a translator for Phillipps and later established himself as a freelance translator. His second daughter Hazel was born in the summer of 1959. Later they moved from Eindhoven to a small village called Knegsel, where his third daughter Astrid was born in 1963.
In 1966 Ronald moved to Switzerland with Els and their children, where he worked as a translator for the World Health Organization for two years. While there, he loved to ski with the two oldest children and make long walks through the beautiful mountains and woods together with the family. Hazel has vivid memories from primary school age of being read scholarly teachings, such as a teaching by Lao Tse, as bedtime story:
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding.
But water will wear away rock which is rigid and cannot yield.”
He would explain the paradox, that what is soft is strong. She would fall asleep puzzled but feeling safe.
Overall, however, this was a difficult and unhappy period, and during this time in Switzerland he and Els divorced, and they all moved back to the Netherlands. Ronald returned to live and work in Eindhoven.
Religion became an important part of Ronald’s identity in his twenties. Although he was aware of his Jewish heritage from childhood, his mother lived a secular life when he was a boy. Ronald developed an interest in religion during his student years, exploring Judaism among other religions at this time. He began to lead an observant Jewish life from his late twenties. His children remember that he built a Succah every year in the beautiful garden at his house in Knegsel, and explained the holiday of Succoth to them. Ronald made several trips to Israel and thought of making Alliyah while he was together with Els, but she didn’t want to, and they remained in Holland. He was a member of the synagogue in Eindhoven for some 30 years, and felt very much at home within the congregation.
In 1987 he met Claudia at a Magen David Adom garden party in Cambridge, introduced by Jane Putnam, a remarkable lady and mutual friend. They married in 1988 in Thompson Lane Synagogue in Cambridge and led a busy and fulfilling life together in The Hague in the Netherlands for ten years. Their daughter Gabriella was born in 1989. In 1998 they returned to London, settling in Herne Hill in South London. Though life and career in Holland had been very good for Claudia, she missed the great scope of resources including the multiculturalism of London, and was excited to return to the UK. At first Ronald was a little reluctant to endure the upheaval of the move. However, as Claudia had hoped and expected, indeed Ronald quickly came to embrace the adventure of rediscovering British life and the new experience of family life in London. When Gabriella was young, he relished facilitating her exploration of the city. He came to appreciate London’s diversity, enjoyed travelling around the city including visits to places of cultural as well as personal and family relevance, and also learning about the local history of south east London. Though many find London a stressful place to live, Ronald found comfort and rejuvenation in settling back into the place of his birth and early upbringing. After moving to London, Dutch language and culture continued to pervade the house, not only through communication with Ronald’s Dutch children and grandchildren, but also with Ronald’s and Claudia’s Dutch business clients. Ronald made sure that Gabriella maintained her Dutch, regularly subcontracting interesting Dutch to English medical translations to her, extracurricular to her medical studies. Ronald inculcated in Gabriella a love of both science and languages.
Ronald worked as an independent translator for technical and medical subjects from about 1959 until recent months when his health declined, a career span of almost 60 years. Most of his translation texts were in scientific, medical and technical fields, though he has also translated texts covering an immense range of other interesting subjects. Though most of his work was translated from Dutch, he was able to translate professionally from ten European languages, and besides this relished study into Eastern and other languages, taking on his own small personal translation projects for enjoyment.
Translating made it possible to work independently, from anywhere, and was for him a means of developing wide ranging general knowledge. But he also had a remarkable desire and ability to drill down, fathoming both the essence and also the fine detail of numerous fields over the course of his career. During the early 1980s, he worked in Quebec for a time, as a lecturer on scientific translation, and general translation theory. He continued to work with great enjoyment until only a few months ago. His contribution over many decades to his largest client, the Free University in Amsterdam, is remembered particularly specially, equally his expertise in translation gained at the culmination of his career and also his kindness, devotion and humour.
Throughout his life, Ronald loved to meet people from different cultures and learn from their ways of life, always eager to immerse himself in culture and language. He told particularly fond stories of living among rural communities in Scotland and Canada. Ronald found happiness and satisfaction in combining freedom, independence, his Jewish identity, and above all an open mind. He was a voracious reader with an incredible breadth of interest, which he shared eagerly with others. One of his most defining photos, which has stood for years in his office, was taken in Rome in front of a wall displaying the Hebrew text, “the Nation of Israel lives forever”.
He is remembered by his family as humble, scrupulously honest and integral in his character. He had a passion for learning and sharing knowledge, and an incredible conceptual memory for things learned from his youth. He held himself to high standards, had a generous spirit and derived pleasure from the achievement of others, but did not yearn for recognition. Through periods of illness in later life, he remained strong, cheerful and uncomplaining, yet thoughtful and engaged with decisions about his treatment, also seeking to learn from his own experiences for the benefit of others. He was equally strong and philosophical in the face of declining health in his final months, maintaining his independence absolutely. He continued to cherish pleasures including reading and remained interested and engaged with the world around him right until the end.
He leaves his wife Claudia, three daughters Lucy, Hazel and Gabriella, and two granddaughters Ember and Lilou.
In life Ronald Bathgate kindly donated The Ronald H. Bathgate Language Prize to Wycliffe College, which is awarded annually to a language pupil on Speech Day. His legacy is a second language prize in his memory; to inspire the next generation of linguists to develop a love and curiosity for language that was an enduring part of Ronald’s life.