An 86-year-old woman who left school with only a shorthand qualification has become the oldest-ever graduate at one of Britain’s top universities.
Proud Peggy Styles completed her studies despite suffering a life-threatening illness and the death of her husband.
She took eight years to finish her doctorate in education after being granted 18 months off when she fell seriously ill with a kidney infection.
After overcoming that she then lost her husband John a year ago as she was finishing her 48,000 word dissertation.
But she was determined to continue and this week finally collected her certificate for an EdD – the educational equivalent of a PhD – at Bristol University.
Peggy said: “My legs and arms are not what they were but my tongue still wags and my brain still functions. I’d keep studying forever if I could.
“Three years ago I was so ill that I nearly died. I was in hospital for a month and had to learn to walk again.
“The university was absolutely super and agreed to suspend my studies until I felt better. I was determined to finish my doctorate.”
Peggy, from Failand, nr Bristol, decided to study after her grandson Oliver asked for her help with a school project on what it was like to live through World War Two.
It prompted her to think about how her own life and education had been impacted by the conflict.
As a child she was bounced between schools in different countries and became a refugee.
She was born in England in 1931 but at the age of six her parents took her back to their homeland, Belgium.
After the war broke out the family fled as refugees, escaping on the last ship sailing out of St Malo in France before the harbour was blown up in 1940.
Because of the upheaval and being schooled in different languages she left school at 15 with only a qualification in shorthand.
For her degree she wanted to address her grandchildren’s generation with the history of the 20th Century, particularly focusing on a human and family perspective.
She also wanted to also to mark the gradual changes in attitude to the education of women which have taken place.
Her doctorate is called ‘Old Wives Tales? Changing my Perception of the World.’
Peggy said: “I was young during wartime and going to university wasn’t really on anyone’s agenda at all. Life was quite different.
“Although the post-war period is still within living memory, culture has changed so much.
“This is one of the reasons I wanted to write about how society’s attitude towards the education of women has gradually changed.”
After the war John left the Army and got a job in Scotland managing a factory, and Peggy set up a refuge for abused women.
Her voluntary work there started a lifelong interest in counselling, and it was only recently that she gave up her role.
When she moved to Bristol with her family, Peggy decided to enroll at the university and she began a postgraduate certificate and diploma in counselling.
When she finished that, she took on a masters..
Peggy said: “I was lucky that the University of Bristol took me on for my postgraduate certificate and diploma in the 90s, especially as I had no A-levels.
“After that I think I got slightly addicted to learning and the university has become like a second home.
“What I’ll miss most is my fellow students and tutors – they’ve all been so nice.”
Peggy became Dr Styles at a ceremony at the Wills Memorial Building proudly watched by her daughter Julie Kane, son-in-law David and two of three grandsons.
She joked: “I shall be quite grateful to get up to the stage without falling over. I wouldn’t want to fall down at the last hurdle.
“Although I’m 86, I don’t really feel that old.”