Hugh Richmond and his wife, Velma Bourgeois Richmond, welcomed me to their pleasant home high in the Berkeley Hills. As we sat admiring the magnificent view, our conversation meandered, as among old friends, through time and distance and shared interests.
The two have been married for 51 years and have two married daughters, both university teachers. Hugh and Velma have lived in Berkeley most of that time and have had remarkable academic careers. Among interests they share are an abiding love of travel and spending time at their cottage in the northwest of Scotland. They both love literature and plays, movies, medieval history, the study of other cultures, and, of course, Shakespeare.
Hugh met Velma in class at the beginning of their time at Oxford, where both were working on graduate degrees. The post-war years in Britain made finding academic work for the two of them difficult, so after completion of their work at Oxford they turned westward. Hugh began in the English department at Berkeley in 1957, continuing to teach after his retirement in 1994. Velma found a position at Holy Names College in Oakland.
After some years teaching, Hugh started the Shakespeare program as part of the English department in 1973. He developed a curriculum using variety of media, including live performances by students on the steps of Wheeler Auditorium.
In addition he has had a long association with Cal Shakes, beginning when it moved from an Emeryville warehouse to John Hinkel Park, and he continues on its Advisory Board. His passion for the Bard extends to London where as chair of the U.S. advisory council to the Globe Theatre project he joined Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip for the opening of the new Globe Theatre on the South Bank in 1997.
Velma taught English literature at Holy Names College in Oakland until she retired. She was academic dean for six years and has published books on Chaucer, medieval romances, Shakespeare. and Muriel Spark, among others. She has also written books about children’s literature,
Hugh has been involved with OLLI since its beginning at Berkeley. He and Velma will team-teach a class this fall which will investigate the relationship between Shakespeare and Spanish playwrights of the same period, exploring shared sources passed down from medieval times. They are particularly interested in coordinating the course with the performance by Teatro Campesino of an Hispanic shepherd play in November 2009 at the San Juan Bautista Mission.. Such plays have been handed down through history via oral tradition and the writings of early priests and nuns. The plays incorporate folk beliefs of the various indigenous peoples who have kept the stories alive.
The conversation went back to Shakespeare. In answer to a question regarding the captivating quality of Shakespeare’s language, Hugh responded that “He had perfect pitch for the way people really spoke. His plays cover every theme in Western civilization. His popular phrases have entered our vocabulary. He’s such a lively, clever writer, just too good to ignore.” Hugh’s favorite play is Much Ado about Nothing. Velma, on the other hand, loves The Winter’s Tale and the issues of female power in The Taming of the Shrew. But then, all of Shakespeare’s works are old friends to these two amazing people.
More about Hugh and Velma on their website at http://shakespeare.berkeley.edu/ then click on “about us”.