Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Kathleen Cuthbert (née Ferguson) (died 01 November 2016, aged 96)

A full obituary and further tributes can be found here

Born in October 1920, Kathleen was the daughter of farmer James Ferguson and his wife Sara (nee Foster). Her childhood was spent with her two brothers and two sisters at the family home of Ballyvoy, near the village of Doagh, in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland. At the age of five she was sent to live during the week with her maternal grandparents, who lived 60 miles away in Derry/Londonderry.

A gifted past pupil of Londonderry High School, Kathleen attended Queen’s in the late 1930s having secured two scholarships of £40 per annum for the duration of her time at University. She studied French and German Literature, lived at Riddle Hall residence for female students and won several other national and international prizes, graduating in 1942.

In Portstewart in the early 1940s Kathleen met a young teacher, Norman Cuthbert. Married on 01 January 1943, Norman earned an MA in Economics at Queen’s and was appointed a Junior Lecturer in the Economics Department at the University, where Kathleen also tutored in the French Department.

A fluent German speaker, on her graduation Kathleen was head-hunted by the government to be a translator at Bletchley Park, the top secret UK wartime code-breaking establishment that finally cracked the allegedly ‘unbreakable’ German High Command Enigma Code, which is said to have changed the whole course of WW2. Under the direction of the mathematician Alan Turing, they developed the code-breaking machine Colossus, the forerunner of all computers.  

After the war, she and her colleagues were told to forget all about Bletchley Park and never say anything to anyone. Kathleen never spoke of it but she was there at the very start of the computer age. In May 2016 she was awarded a medal and a certificate by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in recognition of her war time service at Bletchley Park.

In 1945 Kathleen graduated for a second time from Queen’s. Her MA thesis was on the Maritime Vocabulary in a very obscure Middle High German poem. The following year, Kathleen gave birth to a daughter, Christine.

Throughout their lives together, Kathleen and Norman travelled extensively to the Far East and Australia, Russia, East Germany, North and South Africa and Europe. In 1975 Norman retired from Queen’s and took up an appointment at the University of the West Indies, in Barbados where they lived for a year.  

After Norman’s death in 1990 Kathleen became an Advanced Motorist and in her 70s took part as navigator in the ‘Monte Carlo Dash’, a women-only rally driving event. 

In 2010 she moved to Bristol to be nearer to her immediate family. Kathleen is survived by her daughter Christine, her granddaughter and grandson, and 4 great grandchildren.


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