Hroth Bennett 1917-2020

A tribute from her son Keith McAdam.

Hrothgarde Bennett died peacefully on 24 June 2020 at the age of 102 in Canford Chase Care Home in Poole. She had been a member of the British Psychological Society for many years. Lettice Margaret Hrothgarde Gibson was born in Kandy, Ceylon on 4 December 1917, where her father was the first principal of a very unusual-at-the-time teacher training College for men and women, conducted in Singhalese. He went on to be Principal of Ridley College, Cambridge.  

Hroth was devoted to her parents Paul and Kathleen Gibson, who remained much loved role models. She grew up in Ceylon for ten years, home schooled, while her much older siblings were at boarding schools on England. She had a vivid imagination and apparently did everything with her make-believe friend, Cyril. She learned to read straight down the page, rattling through books; spelling was never a strong suit!

When the family returned to UK, Hroth attended St Mary’s College Brighton, as a border. Between school and university, age 16, she was enrolled to spend a term in Paris but she didn’t much like the set-up when she got there and told her parents she was leaving and instead travelled around Europe with a friend. 

Her degree course in Anthropology at Newnham College, Cambridge was before women could be awarded a University degree. At a time when Child Guidance clinics were being pioneered in London by William Moodie, an enlightened Robert Gillespie at Guys Hospital in London took Hroth on to train in clinical Psychology. Gillespie had trained at the Cassel Hospital and Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, before being appointed physician in psychological medicine at Guy's in 1926. He went on in 1944 to create the York Clinic, which was the first inpatient psychiatric unit attached to a teaching hospital in the UK. He then recommended her to a colleague Professor David Henderson who became her mentor in Edinburgh  where she was also inspired by Margaret Lowenfeld, the initiator of play therapy and the use of sand trays. She transferred to Cambridge, working in Child Guidance with Dorothea Hutchinson.  

Hroth married Ian McAdam in 1939 while he was completing his surgical training and working on the early clinical trials of Penicillin in Edinburgh. After the World War, they travelled on a gender-segregated troop ship with a baby to Cape Town and drove up to Uganda in 1946, where Ian was initially a lone surgeon at the national referral hospital and later professor of surgery. Hroth set up the department of Child Psychology and Education at Makerere University in Kampala. Many students came to the house for her tutorials, which provided the opportunity to learn about different cultural perspectives, including one student who went on to be President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki (head of state 2002-2013). She bravely drove all round East Africa on her own in a little Peugeot 203, supervising students during their teaching practice. She helped set up a novel Demonstration School at Makerere enabling her and her students to observe through a one-way screen how children of different cultural  backgrounds adapted to early education together. She also ran a preschool at home for a few fortunate children. It is remarkable that her elder daughter Elspeth has built on, and extended her professional interests marvellously, as a child and family psychiatrist, and in developing the field of Appreciative Systemic Therapy.

In retirement Hroth’s parents moved to Uganda in an advisory capacity to the Bishop of Uganda and they built and lived in adjacent houses on the then-empty and grassy hill of Kololo on the outskirts of (now central) Kampala. In celebration of her parent’s golden wedding anniversary Hroth organised a trip to Murchison Falls, when they happened to be first on the scene after Ernest Hemingway’s plane had crashed by the Falls.

Her first marriage was dissolved in 1960 and she went on to a 43-year marriage with Victor Bennett, an electrical engineer who became director of Posts and Telecommunications in East Africa. Vic retired early, after training his Kenyan successor. They then set to work to design and build a wonderfully self-sufficient dream small-holding (before the TV version of ‘The Good Life’) on the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment at 9000ft at the Kinangop near Naivasha; fresh milk from the cows, a large vegetable and fruit garden, venison when required, riding horses to fish at a local dam, using Heliograph and Morse code to contact friends in Naivasha 20 miles away; with a fire in the evenings when there could be frost outside. Hroth took up painting in her 50s and relished this creativity.

They went on to the challenging task of hands-on renovation of a derelict Primrose Cottage in Buckden, Huntingdonshire (1966) and later the Keep, Castle Hill in Great Torrington, Devon (1986). They had to be thrifty to make ends meet but they enjoyed life to the full. This was a wonderful friendship; they loved the road less travelled and they travelled widely.  

In their isolated situation in Africa, she started audio tape consultations with individuals and families who consulted her for help. Many of these consultees greatly appreciated this counselling, which was largely listening and allowing people to discover their own solutions. She asserted that she did not give advice. She authored two books entitled Harmony or Hassle: every couples choice and Harmony or Hassle: every family’s choice, which became valuable resources for their children and grandchildren. Three children, four step children have begotten 16 grandchildren and almost 30 great grands. In Devon she served as a Cruse counsellor and ran weekly groups for a series of people finding it hard to cope. She and Vic were stalwart supporters in running the community Volunteer Bureau at the Plough Inn in Torrington.

In 2011 Hroth moved to a ground floor flat in sheltered housing at New Forge Place in Redbourn, Hertfordshire; somewhat reminiscent of a Cambridge Courtyard perhaps. Being a fresh face on the scene helped her to reach out to start exercise classes in her flat, Mah Jong and Bridge in U3A.

She demonstrated unconditional love and inculcated in her family the importance of Values that are positive and inspiring. She posed questions cleverly, observing intuitively in all her interactions and many valued her wise counsel.

Hroth is survived by her three children: Keith McAdam retired in Redbourn Hertfordshire, physician, emeritus professor of Tropical Medicine at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Elspeth McAdam, retired in London, Child and Family Psychiatrist ; Roslyn Smith, retired in Poole, physiotherapist.

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