Dr Martha Klein (1941 - 2024)



Martha Klein

The College is deeply saddened to report the death of Emeritus Fellow Dr Martha Klein. Martha was Pembroke Fellow in Philosophy for 13 years, and a much loved and respected tutor. She died peacefully at home on 9th March 2024.

Born in California and brought up in New York City, she began studying at Queens College in New York at the age of 16, but personal matters led her to leave in her first year. She would not return to University until she was 33, when she embarked on a degree in Philosophy at the University of Reading.

In the years between she worked a variety of jobs; as a waitress, a clerk, a receptionist, a film production assistant, and then, after marrying her husband Larry, on a Norwegian ship on which the pair sailed for nearly three years. Larry was Second Mate, while Martha was, as she described it, “the girl who served in the mess”. Back in the UK, she worked at the British Film Institute and then in the Photographic Department at the University of Reading. It was this last role which prompted her decision to take two A Levels which would allow her to apply to the University as a mature student.

On completion of her degree at Reading, Martha came to Oxford to complete the BPhil at Somerville College. In 1980 she began a doctoral thesis on free will and moral responsibility and in the same year began to teach, both at Reading University and at a number of Oxford colleges. Seven years later, on receipt of her doctorate, she was appointed to a lectureship in Philosophy at Christ Church.

In 1993 Martha was elected Fellow of Philosophy at Pembroke. Here, she continued to focus her research on philosophy of mind, specialising in free will, moral responsibility and the relationship between thoughts and actions. She was particularly interested in the intersection of philosophy of mind and moral philosophy.

Alongside her own scholarly work and multiple publications, Martha is remembered for teaching and encouraging generations of Philosophy students at Pembroke. The great fondness and respect with which she was regarded by her students was clear: on her retirement, one former student recalled “her ability to make the most complex theory suddenly dawn on you after leaving one of her tutorials.” He went on to remark that “she was always a tutor you could talk to about anything at any time – and I know that was really important to us.”

Her commitment to Philosophy at the University extended beyond her teaching responsibilities. She played an active role in the affairs of her department, serving periods as a member of the Faculty Board for Philosophy, a member of the Committee for Graduate Students, and Director of Undergraduate Studies. Closer to home, she was Tutor for Admissions at Pembroke from 2000 to 2003, holding the post at a time of rapidly changing procedures, and exhibiting a conscientiousness and attention to detail which far exceeded the call of duty. She showed her care for broader College life too, serving with great tact a period as Staff Advisor.

At Martha’s farewell dinner in 2006, Emeritus Fellow Professor Ken Mayhew (Fellow in Economics from 1975 to 2014) described her great interest not only in the intellectual growth of her students, but in their personal wellbeing: “She was sympathetic and welcoming, always willing to listen and encourage. She was also demanding of her students and concerned to stimulate their intellectual ambition. She was critical in the best sense of the word – constructive and never dismissive or condescending. This is because she was always concerned for them as people, in matters ranging far beyond their academic performance. She was always willing to help them with personal problems but was never intrusive. […] She demanded high standards and got them. At the same time I never heard a single student talk of her with anything but respect and affection.”

We are immensely grateful for Dr Martha Klein’s many years of dedicated service to our College community. She will be warmly remembered by all those she supported as a tutor, a colleague and a friend.