Professor Jasper Griffin

Monday 25 November 2019

We are greatly saddened to learn of the death of Professor Jasper Griffin FBA (Balliol 1956, Dyson Junior Research Fellow 1961–1963, Tutorial Fellow in Classics 1963–2004, Emeritus Fellow from 2004) on 22 November 2019.

Sir Anthony Kenny (Master 1978-1989) writes:

‘Apart from a one-year visiting fellowship at Harvard, Jasper Griffin spent all his academic life at Balliol. As an undergraduate between 1956 and 1960 he obtained a first in Mods and a first in Greats and carried off every possible classics prize. He delivered a St Catherine’s Day speech that was long remembered. In 1961 he was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship, and after holding that for two years he was promoted to the Tutorial Fellowship in Classics which he held until his retirement 41 years later.

‘Jasper was an exacting but inspirational tutor who was much beloved by his pupils, who valued his wit and generosity. Many of them went on to conspicuously successful careers. They included not only a number of prolific classicists, but also very distinguished diplomats, and our present Prime Minister. Jasper played a full part in College societies such as the Leonardo, the Arnold and Brackenbury, and the Vic Soc, being always ready to share the undergraduate entertainments on offer. He was devoid of ambition as a College administrator, but served as Tutor for Admissions for three years. For a much longer period he was Steward of the Senior Common Room, and endeavoured to enforce strict decorum among its members.

‘As a classicist, Jasper did not rush to publish, but over the years produced a number of highly respected books on Homer and Vergil and a light-hearted book of snobs. In 1986 he was elected to the British Academy. In 1992 he was promoted to a Professorship and in the same year became the University’s Public Orator - a role which fitted his talents perfectly. His eulogies were models of excellent Latin, and the English oration in alternate years gave him an opportunity to ruminate on the steady decline of important elements of culture and society.

‘In 1960 Jasper married an American woman, Miriam Tamara Dressler, whom he had met at an Oxford class on Euripides. She became a classical scholar of comparable distinction to her husband. Jasper’s last few years were clouded by dementia, and he never recovered emotionally or physically after Miriam’s death in 2018. During his final decline and illness he was lovingly cared for by the three daughters of the marriage.’

A full obituary will be published in the Balliol College Annual Record 2020.

The funeral for Jasper Griffin will be held in Balliol College Chapel on Tuesday 10 December at 11.00am. It is planned that family, friends and close colleagues will attend. The funeral will be followed by a drinks and canapes reception in the Master’s Lodgings.

A memorial event will be organised in 2020 to which all are welcome and further details will be sent out in due course.

Those who plan to attend the funeral are asked to contact the Chaplain’s Secretary at sarah.twinn@balliol.ox.ac.uk.

If you wish, you can leave condolences or share memories of Jasper here.