Richard Paul Charles Gapper (1943–2014)
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Richard Paul Charles Gapper (1943–2014)

Richard Gapper, whose involvement in the Society for French Studies began in the mid-1990s, died on 11 March 2014 after a long illness. Not just an assiduous participant in the Society’s annual conference, he was Honorary Treasurer of the Society from 1997 to 2000, long-standing member of its Finance Committee, and, of course, founder of the Gapper Charitable Trust, to which the Society owes its three R. H. Gapper prizes.

Though a lifelong Francophile, Richard came to French studies as an academic discipline relatively late in life. After a first degree in psychology and economics at St Andrews (1965) and an MBA from Harvard (1967), he had a spectacularly successful career in marketing and management, rising up through the ranks at Pickfords over a twenty-year period from 1971 to become the Divisional Managing Director responsible for property and travel for the then National Freight Corporation. However, in 1991 he took early retirement and embarked on a new life that involved, among other things, pursuing his love for France and French culture both academically and otherwise, sailing, charitable work, music, and gardens.

Within a year of stopping work full time Richard had enrolled on a BA course in French at King’s College London. Specializing primarily in the modern period — and particularly the novel — with just the occasional foray into the grand siècle, he took a spectacular first in 1996. If I may abuse my privilege as someone with access to student records at King’s, I can reveal that, had King’s awarded starred or congratulatory firsts, Richard would have comfortably met the criteria; indeed, his is probably one of the best firsts the French Department at King’s has ever awarded! Although he chose eventually not to pursue a higher degree, Richard was nonetheless keen to continue with his academic activities in French and quickly involved himself in the Society for French Studies, becoming Honorary Treasurer within just a year of graduating.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Richard’s stint as Treasurer transformed the Society’s financial fortunes. Following his extremely astute investment advice and benefiting from his judicious financial management, the Society went from being a sometimes struggling medium-sized learned society (however academically vibrant) to one with a financial cushion sufficient to subsidize a book series, give conference grants, support graduate students to attend its conferences, and so on. In short, many of the Society’s current activities would not have been possible without Richard. Although he stood down as Treasurer in 2000, he continued to act not only as the Society’s financial guardian angel, assiduously attending (even when his health was failing) the annual meeting of the Finance Committee that was formed in 2006 to advise the Treasurer, but also, just as importantly, as a constant and generous source of advice to successive presidents and treasurers. He was particularly effective at getting us to think through our financial plans for several years ahead and at helping us ward off problems before they arose. Clearly, the key to this major contribution Richard made to the Society was his considerable experience in business, and one can well imagine that sometimes he must have felt rather impatient with the otherworldliness of many academics. However, if he had been imparting academic knowledge, one would have said that he wore his learning lightly, and the delicacy with which he gave us the benefit of his wisdom was exquisite. With a tilt of the head, a wry smile, and an incisive question posed somewhat self-effacingly but [End Page 446] nonetheless firmly after he had listened carefully to what everyone had to say, he would guide us through our strategic budgetary discussions to the right answer. In all my dealings with Richard when I was President of the Society, and subsequently, one of the things I remember most was his proclivity for questions. Mine de rien, he was an extremely skilled Socratic questioner, and had he taken another route in life he would have been a great teacher.

Richard’s contribution to the Society was not, however, limited to his tireless efforts on behalf...