Ms Mary Evelyn Lugton – a University alum and long-serving librarian at the Baillieu Library – left the University a transformative gift in her Will. The gift has already provided valuable support to doctoral candidates impacted by COVID-19 and will support postgraduate researchers for years to come.
Ms Mary Lugton was known for her enduring passion for history, her desire to give back to her community, and her impeccable sense of style.
Following her lifelong career maintaining old and rare books at the Baillieu Library, and even authoring several publications herself, it’s fitting that Ms Lugton’s legacy is now aiding research on preserving the ancient art of Persian writing inks – among many more multi-disciplinary research projects.
Mary Lugton (left) at a University Heritage luncheon event.
A life at the library
After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) majoring in history, Ms Lugton began her career with the University. Many years later, she also completed a Masters of Librarianship.
Ms Lugton joined the Baillieu Library’s Reference Department in 1946, rose to Senior Reference Librarian shortly afterwards, then later became the University Bibliographer in 1978 – a position she held until her retirement in 1989.
Ms Lugton also published four books throughout her career. Three are about George McArthur – a book collector and fellow bequestor to the University of Melbourne – and another chronicles books written by female University of Melbourne alumni between 1883–1983.
It’s evident when speaking with current and former employees of the library that Ms Lugton’s work over three decades left a lasting impact.
“When I first started, I benefited greatly from her meticulous filing system and several drawers full of alphabetised manila folders in a large cabinet in the Rare Book Office, which provided answers to many of the questions I had when familiarising myself with the collection,” explained Ms Lugton’s successor, Merete Smith.
History reunion group including Mary Lugton (front row, far right).
University of Melbourne Archives Media Photograph Collection, Photograph No 17240.
Rory McAuliffe, Ms Lugton’s nephew, also has fond memories of his aunt during her time at the University. He recalls joining her at the University of Melbourne staff club where she helped improve the English of new migrants.
“That was definitely one of her interests.” he recalled. “She did it for people like a Polish vet who needed to learn exemplary English.”
Mr McAuliffe also describes his aunt as a formidable debater. “She was well informed. Her opinions were always thought through and supported by evidence – but she was frightening because it was very difficult to win an argument against her!”
Generosity through diligence
Ms Lugton’s fastidious approach translated into many aspects of her life, including her finances, which has resulted in an immense impact on the lives of many researchers and disciplines
“She was a very dedicated saver and investor,” said Mr McAuliffe.
“My children were fascinated, and Mary's stock market tips were a highlight of Christmas dinners. She was the only holder of shares I've ever met that attended all the shareholders meetings and asked questions.”
It was Ms Lugton’s wish to bequeath her carefully collected estate to support postgraduate research at the University across six distinct disciplines.
The first distribution of Ms Lugton’s gift, received in 2019, supported COVID-19 stipend extensions – helping doctoral students whose progress was directly impacted by the pandemic. 27 students across the six disciplines were supported in 2020 and 2021.
Into the future, Ms Lugton’s gift will support four recipients across two awards each year through the Mary Lugton Scholarships and Mary Lugton Postdoctoral Fellowships.
The awards will rotate across the six disciplines supported, commencing with art conservation and medicine in 2022, science and botany in 2023, and engineering and history in 2024; and subsequently rotating in order.
Ms Lugton’s selection of supported research fields shows that, while her primary interests were in literature and history, she was also passionate about bolstering research across other critical areas.
“Even though she was a humanities-type person, I can tell you she viewed science as one of the major ways in which life for ordinary people could be improved in the future,” explained Mr McAuliffe.
Honouring ancient texts
Ms Lugton’s legacy will give researchers the time and resources to immerse themselves in their vital work for many years to come, with the first two Mary Lugton Postdoctoral Fellowships being awarded this year.
One recipient, Dr Sadra Zekrgoo, holds an Arts PhD in Materials Conservation from the University. His research focus has been on the construction of traditional Persian writing inks.
“I find ink recipes by investigating treatises left behind by Persian master calligraphers,” explained Dr Zekrgoo. “Many of these recipes are in the form of Persian poetry, and the rhymes aided in memorisation.”
Dr Zekrgoo is grateful for the Fellowship as it will help him expand on his existing research and write his book: Persian ink recipes, their method of construction, and non-invasive analysis techniques – which he has been passionate about since completing his PhD.
“My focus had been purely on Persian black writing inks of 15th–18th centuries. But the funding has reignited my passion for academic investigation, and I am expanding my research to black and coloured ink recipes from the 10th–19th centuries,” said Dr Zekrgoo.
Echoing Mary Lugton’s own interests, Dr Zekrgoo feels that the art and materials associated with different cultures across the world ought to be understood better – so we can recognise why cultures have transformed over time and acknowledge how they continue to shape society today.
“My hope is for the public to understand that just like food, music or clothing, every region and culture has a unique material technology when it comes to works of art, and cultural heritage,” he said.
Dr Zekrgoo is thankful to generous donors who fund researchers so they can continue their work and contribute to academia and the public more broadly.
“Thanks to Ms Lugton’s generous support, I now have the means to put every minute of my time into the work I am knowledgeable about and have deep passion for,” he said.
“I think it would make her happy to know that her support played a significant role in concluding this pioneering research.”
Ties that run deep
Anyone who knew Ms Lugton can understand her motivations for leaving such a significant gift to the University.
“I think she may have considered herself successor in a tradition of significant donors,” said Ms Smith. “The subject of her Masters of Librarianship thesis, George McArthur, was the earliest major donor of rare books to the University.”
Alongside her desire to improve the world for future generations, Mr McAuliffe says his aunt simply wanted to return the money back to the place she felt so connected to. “I think there was a sense in which she felt the University of Melbourne was her family.”