The following article appears in the 2015 Jesus College Record.
The College was saddened by the unexpected death of the Archivist, Chris Jeens, on 13 August 2015.
Chris joined Jesus College in 2007. He was in College one day a week, but worked much more than that, often sending emails from home to ensure a timely response. He devoted the rest of his working week to the medieval library at Gloucester Cathedral.
The role of the College Archivist is not bound to one department. The corporate memory of the College resides in the Archives, to be drawn upon by the Estates Bursar, the Development team, the Librarian, and many others. Not just ancient documents but modern records fall under their care: the Property Director might need details of building projects; the Chaplain might need the deed of consecration of the Chapel; a Fellow might have an open-ended question about College life.
The outside world, too, has reason to be grateful for the Archivist. Both professional historians and amateur genealogists find themselves wanting to confirm the details of a student’s time at Jesus. Admissions registers preserve the facts while photographs, especially of sports teams, can hint at character.
Colleagues across Oxford contributed to a book of condolences, which drew forth reminiscences of Chris’s sharp mind, his dry humour, his breadth of knowledge, his generosity, and his professionalism. To quote the words of the Chaplain, ‘Not only
was Chris our greatest source of knowledge about our College history and identity, indeed the careful keeper of so many of our treasures, he was himself a treasure to this place.’
Chris could be droll about the self-importance of an Oxford college, but he was always conscientious in giving a full response to every enquiry, whether from inside or outside Jesus. With characteristic practicality he had recently established an inventory of all the College paintings, and he was beginning to work through basement stores of more unglamorous modern records.
We at Jesus have just committed ourselves to publishing a new history of the College. Chris had been invited to contribute and advise and was looking forward to being intimately involved. Even without his words, the College history will benefit from his dedicated stewardship of the Archives.
Owen McKnight (Librarian)