An Interview with the Master’s PA
Eileen Green has been working at Pembroke for nearly 25 years. She talks us through the ins-and-outs of life as the Master’s PA.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day in this job is very different. That’s one of the things I like about it. I normally arrive at work at 9.30am and start my day by checking emails – my own and the Master’s. If it’s a Governing Body day I need to provide the Master with hard copies of all the papers in advance, and I draft the agendas for Fellowship Committee meetings a week beforehand. Other duties include keeping the diaries up-to-date, attending meetings, meeting and greeting guests, and generally making sure the Master is where he needs to be at the right time and with the right briefing material.
I’m also responsible for organizing events in the Master’s Lodge. On Tuesday 8th March, for instance, we held an event to celebrate the unveiling of a new portrait of Emma Johnson (1985), who is a world-famous clarinetist and became our first female Honorary Fellow in 1999. I spent the morning trying to get my day-to-day work done ahead of time while also fielding calls about the state of traffic on the M11, and from 3.30 onwards I was liaising with the Catering Department and Curator for access to the Lodge. The artist, Isabella Watling, and her partner arrived with the portrait on the back seat of their car a little before Emma, who arrived in the forecourt around 5pm.
The Curator had set up an easel for the portrait and I witnessed its unwrapping, which was a very special thing to be involved in. I settled Emma and Greg Drott (2005), who was accompanying her on piano, in the drawing room for their short rehearsal and made sure they had everything they needed. The only person missing at quarter to seven was the Master, who was still busy working, so I was there to greet the guests until he arrived. It was a really lovely evening – Emma Johnson performed 2 pieces by Mozart, and it was obvious that she loved every note, which made it so special for those of us watching.
Do you have a favourite aspect of the job?
Meeting and greeting the Master’s visitors is possibly my favourite part of the job. Visitors range from invited guests to Research Fellowship interview candidates, members of staff or the Fellowship, and people from the various elements of the Master’s life inside and outside of Pembroke. Having made all the arrangements in advance, you’ve normally had a lengthy email exchange with the people involved, and it’s lovely to see them in person on the day. Emma and Isabella, for example, were both just as charming in person as they were via email, and it was a pleasure getting to meet them.
What was your background before coming to Pembroke?
I always wanted to be a high-level PA. Growing up, I watched my newly-widowed mother study to get into the Civil Service, and it led me to appreciate the importance of being independent and being able to support your family. I was accepted for a place at the Bank of England Training School after leaving school and after graduating worked for a time in the Foreign Exchange Department there, before becoming the youngest PA at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in London when I was 18. Later on, I worked for firms of solicitors and as a legal temp. I was asked to train to become a Legal Executive, but I was planning to start a family and wanted to focus on that instead.
When I applied for the job of Master’s Secretary, as it was then, at Pembroke, it was only four hours a day working for Lord Adrian. I was fortunate to be chosen out of the 61 candidates. Lord Adrian was a Professor of Cell Physiology, so I spent a lot of time typing up papers for him and not understanding a word of it. I then worked for Sir Roger Tomkys for twelve years, and during his time here we watched the construction of Foundress Court and the new Lodge.
Has the job changed much since you started?
Over the years, with four different Masters, it’s almost been like having four different jobs. When Sir Richard was here, for instance, Lady Dearlove was very involved with the College and used to organise and host the events in the Lodge, but with Lord Smith here that’s become part of my role once again. So to begin with I had Lord Adrian’s papers and correspondence on cell physiology, and then Sir Roger’s lectures on Middle Eastern history, followed by the secret world of Security and Diplomacy and now, with Lord Smith, there’s another completely new element, as he’s so involved in the world of art, which I find fascinating.
The summer before Sir Richard and Lady Dearlove arrived, I had to undergo an in-depth family background check so that I could continue doing the job that I had been doing for 13 years and supervise the installation of a large array of security equipment. Within two years the Master’s Office moved onto K staircase, where I’ve been working for the last eight or nine years. Early in Sir Richard’s time here, I was asked to become Secretary to the Fellowship Committee, which involves attending the meetings, preparing the minutes and taking their recommendations to the Governing Body. Sir Richard would introduce me as his ‘assistant’, and my job title gradually changed from ‘Master’s Secretary’ to ‘Master’s PA’ as my responsibilities grew.
It is an unusual job. There are only 64 of us in the country, because the collegiate system only operates at Cambridge, Oxford and Durham. Although the colleges are very different, all of the Cambridge Heads of House PAs are in regular contact if they need to share information.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever dealt with as part of the job?
It was possibly the time when we had a flood several inches deep in the basement of the Master’s Lodge while the Master and Lady Tomkys were away – the then Housekeeper and I were both frantically mopping up in an effort to keep the water away from the Master’s belongings, the electrical equipment and the boiler room which is definitely not part of my job description! But when a job needs doing…… There was also an odd occasion shortly afterSir Richard arrived as Master I answered the phone one day when he was away, and a voice asked me to tell him that John had called. He wouldn’t leave a surname; he just said Sir Richard would know who he was. So I passed on the message, and Sir Richard said, “John who?” Not an isolated incident in Sir Richard’s eleven years as Master!