Margery (Mobbs) Moberly

2008-06-19 00:00

MARGERY (Mobbs) Moberly (70), well known in Pietermaritzburg from her long association with the University of Natal Press, died in Durban last week after a brief illness, the victim of a particularly aggressive cancer of the lungs.

Born in Kokstad, Moberly grew up in Kloof, starting her schooling at St Mary’s. After her parents moved to Eshowe, she completed it at Durban Girls’ College of which she was Dux in 1954. She then did an arts degree and teaching diploma on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal, taking a very active part in student life. It was on that campus that much of her later working life was to be spent.

On graduating she taught briefly in government schools in Natal, then for a few years in Kenya at Limaru Girls’ School, followed by a further spell in London before returning to South Africa in the mid-sixties to a post at Epworth.

The acquisition of a library science diploma brought her back to the university, first in the library, then to the university archives and finally to the university press. Initially termed the manager of the Natal University Press, she was eventually awarded the rather grand title of Publisher to the University. She built up the press from a shaky start as a somewhat amateur and part-time operation to a highly professional institution, internationally respected for the quality of its scholarly publications.

Notable among these were the two volumes of Travels in Southern Africa by the Frenchman Adulphe Delegorgue, both translated from the French by Fleur Webb and introduced by Stephanie Alexander and Colin Webb in the case of Volume 1 and Stephanie Alexander and Bill Guest for Volume 2.

Perhaps her greatest triumph as a publisher was the production of Pietermaritzburg 1838-1988, A New Portrait of an African City to mark the capital’s sesquicentennial. It was a project which she both conceptualised and drove with relentless energy and enthusiasm. Edited by John Laband and the present Msunduzi Municipal Manager Rob Haswell (then on the staff of the university), the book embodied contributions by an astonishing 73 authors from a wide range of academic disciplines. It covered virtually every possible aspect of the city’s history from two million years before the present to what were at that time contemporary developments.

Moberly’s death coincided with the Cape Town Book Fair and, appropriately, the University Press flew the flag on its stand at half mast for the duration of the fair.

Val Ward, formerly of the Natal Museum and a long-standing acquaintance, said: “Mobbs Moberly was a generous, witty and caring friend with whom I shared many meals, laughter and tears as well as the occasional argument. We enjoyed working together on The Witness series The Way We Were in 1999. She was dynamic and a perfectionist who leaves a gap in the lives of her large circle of friends.”

Moberly never married. She leaves two older sisters and their respective families as well as many friends. A memorial function will be held in the Dargle on Saturday.

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