Dr Jo Croft, senior lecturer in English, died of cancer on 15 January. She was a dearly-loved colleague and teacher at LJMU for nearly 28 years.
Jo arrived at LJMU in 1993 after finishing a PhD on ‘Adolescence and Writing: Locating the Borderline’ at the University of Sussex. She was appointed to teach on what was then the degree in Literature, Life and Thought. This name for an earlier incarnation of the English degree fitted Jo like a glove, because she believed in the power of literature to illuminate and enrich our lives and our ways of thinking about them.
Jo’s skills as a teacher drew on all her best qualities – for listening, empathy, kindness, generosity and tact. Her fierce intellect was worn lightly and combined with a great creative imagination. She was a wonderful colleague who enlivened all departmental occasions with her dry wit, ready laugh and wise counsel. She was a mentor, both official and unofficial, to younger staff and a natural collaborator with an effortless gift for friendship. She made the annual English graduation parties, overflowing with flower displays, bunting and food, the envy of the school and prone to invasions by gate-crashers.
Jo was a deeply diligent personal tutor and supervisor, spending many hours in one-to-one meetings with students. At assessment boards she championed, and fought tenaciously for, the unique situation of every student over any attempt to reduce them to metrics and algorithms. She believed in a humane ideal of the university in which every student is given the time and space to ask important questions about their lives and to develop their talents in a way that is true to themselves and useful to others. Countless students showed their appreciation and gratitude by staying in touch with her after graduation.
Jo wrote and published widely on numerous topics, such as psychoanalysis, teenagers’ bedrooms, hoarding, beachcombing and swimming, often through the lens of favourite authors like Denton Welch and John Berger. This eclectic range of subjects was brought together by her personality, her love of life and her longstanding interest in identity and all that it means to be human. Her words were finely wrought, essayistic and lyrical, miles away from the professionalised anonymity of much academic writing.
In the past few years Jo had become an accomplished filmmaker. Her short, collage-like films, mostly about swimming, were screened at academic conferences, at the launch of the Research Institute for Literature and Cultural History, and at Aberystwyth Art Centre. She was a born artist who could turn her hand to making many beautiful things: drawings, postcard collages, cabinets full of found objects. Even a handwritten note from her was a lovely object.
Jo was modest to a fault about her achievements. But those achievements are many and her legacy is rich, not least because she was able to mould all her talents into the shape of a fully rounded and uniquely lovable human being. We in the English department at LJMU will miss her more than we can say.