ABL Director To Focus On Gardening, Chickens And Her 'Cuppa' In Retirement
by Alan Hunt
In a few weeks, Dr. Mairi Rennie will be retiring to her 18th century stone-built cottage in the English countryside, reflecting on her role as director of Baylor's renowned Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) for the past six years.
Rennie, who will be 65 in October 2002 ("hence my retirement"), says she regards her time at Baylor as "an enormous privilege and a fascinating experience." In retirement in her native England, she says she plans to finish off some Browning projects, go to concerts in London, and "as a music lover, probably join a choir." She adds, "I also love gardening, and will grow organic vegetables and maybe even keep a few hens -- if I can keep the dogs out of the chicken run."
The pets she talks about are members of what she terms her "Texan family -- an Australian Shepherd-mix dog, a greyhound-mix dog and a pedigree Turkish Van cat -- all strays who have somehow moved into my (Waco) home." Rennie says she plans to take them all back to England -- if she can "negotiate the very strict UK (United Kingdom) quarantine laws."
High on her list of retirement activities will be visits to her two married sons and their families, including her 1-year-old granddaughter, who all live in the Marylebone area of London. Rennie's cottage is in a village in West Sussex, near Chichester, but she points out, "There is a fast train to London from a nearby town."
Iced Tea and Air Conditioning
Between walks in the woods and meadows of rural England, Rennie says she will recall fondly the amusing moments of life in Texas.
"I have found that 'tea' means 'iced tea,' whereas to me it means a 'cuppa.' And there are endless other language differences of course." Chuckling, she says there is a tradesman in Waco who insists on calling her "Mrs. Bucket," referring to the lead character in the popular BBC television series "Keeping Up Appearances."
Rennie, an internationally known Browning authority and scholar, joined Baylor in October 1996, leaving her post as principal of Kensington Park, a tutorial college in Notting Hill, London.
"Anyone who studies the Brownings soon knows about Armstrong Browning Library," she says. "I have always wanted to spend time abroad and being here has allowed me to fulfill that ambition," she says. "It is very important to view your own country from the perspective of another."
Of her arrival in Texas, she recalls, "I remember thinking it must be very cheap to live here, because I wouldn't have the long cold winters. I had no conception of air-conditioning, and didn't even understand the climate control switch on the wall. I looked forward to the lovely hot summers -- like the south of France or Spain, I thought.
"By about May 1997 I began to feel quite unwell and quickly learned about air-conditioning. People in England have no idea of Texas in July and August; it is impossible to explain. After all, England is on the same latitude as Newfoundland, and Waco is equivalent to Cairo and north Africa."
Rennie describes her proudest accomplishment at Armstrong Browning Library as establishing the on-line Browning database, which is available to Browning scholars worldwide.
"As the project develops, ABL will focus on all Browning resources," she says, "even those held by other libraries."
What future projects would she like to see achieved? "I would like to see special scholarships to allow graduate and postgraduate students to study at Baylor, and make more use of the library. Then, of course the on-line database is the priority, a project that may take 10 or more years to complete."
Rennie, whose last day at Baylor is July 31, says she will dearly miss all her colleagues who have shown such kindness during her time at Armstrong Browning Library.
"The staff at the library can tell Baylor friends where to contact me in the UK, and I would love to meet up with anyone coming to London."