Meet Betty Romary, UCL’s oldest living alumna

The centenarian shares her memories of studying during the second world war – and her secret to a long life

Centenarian Betty Romar sits in her armchair

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Betty Romary (UCL History 1937) is an extraordinary woman. Endlessly curious, fiercely socialist and a proud rule-breaker, she is also 100 years old.

Betty grew up in a matriarchal household. Her father looked after the money, but Betty’s mother ruled the roost. Enjoying a modern upbringing by today’s standards, Betty and her sister were encouraged to have their own opinions and beliefs.

“My sister studied science at UC (as it was then known) and I loved the look of it. I wanted to go to a place that was free-thinking.”

Betty travelled up from Surrey every day to attend her classes. A popular student, she had many fascinating friends. She remembers playing tennis with a friend, Razar, who went on to play at Wimbledon. Betty says, “If I wanted to stay for late lectures or to play tennis early the next day, I had to go to a youth hostel for a shilling. For breakfast, you used a Bunsen burner and an asbestos mat to toast bread.”

When war began, many UC programmes were temporarily relocated to Wales, sharing facilities with Aberystwyth College. Betty lodged with 10 other students in one of the bay’s hotels. “There was a certain amount of mischief because it was the first time we were all living together,” Betty says, “but most of the boys had gone to the war!”

Unable to finish her studies with UC, Betty did her final year at Birkbeck College. “I arrived there one Sunday morning to rescue books that had been housed in their basement after the firebombing of Fleet Street the night before,” she recalls.

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Betty Romary (UCL History 1937) is an extraordinary woman. Endlessly curious, fiercely socialist and a proud rule-breaker, she is also 100 years old.

Betty grew up in a matriarchal household. Her father looked after the money, but Betty’s mother ruled the roost. Enjoying a modern upbringing by today’s standards, Betty and her sister were encouraged to have their own opinions and beliefs.

“My sister studied science at UC (as it was then known) and I loved the look of it. I wanted to go to a place that was free-thinking.”

Betty travelled up from Surrey every day to attend her classes. A popular student, she had many fascinating friends. She remembers playing tennis with a friend, Razar, who went on to play at Wimbledon. Betty says, “If I wanted to stay for late lectures or to play tennis early the next day, I had to go to a youth hostel for a shilling. For breakfast, you used a Bunsen burner and an asbestos mat to toast bread.”

When war began, many UC programmes were temporarily relocated to Wales, sharing facilities with Aberystwyth College. Betty lodged with 10 other students in one of the bay’s hotels. “There was a certain amount of mischief because it was the first time we were all living together,” Betty says, “but most of the boys had gone to the war!”

Unable to finish her studies with UC, Betty did her final year at Birkbeck College. “I arrived there one Sunday morning to rescue books that had been housed in their basement after the firebombing of Fleet Street the night before,” she recalls.

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Betty Romary (UCL History 1937) is an extraordinary woman. Endlessly curious, fiercely socialist and a proud rule-breaker, she is also 100 years old.

Betty grew up in a matriarchal household. Her father looked after the money, but Betty’s mother ruled the roost. Enjoying a modern upbringing by today’s standards, Betty and her sister were encouraged to have their own opinions and beliefs.

“My sister studied science at UC (as it was then known) and I loved the look of it. I wanted to go to a place that was free-thinking.”

Betty travelled up from Surrey every day to attend her classes. A popular student, she had many fascinating friends. She remembers playing tennis with a friend, Razar, who went on to play at Wimbledon. Betty says, “If I wanted to stay for late lectures or to play tennis early the next day, I had to go to a youth hostel for a shilling. For breakfast, you used a Bunsen burner and an asbestos mat to toast bread.”

When war began, many UC programmes were temporarily relocated to Wales, sharing facilities with Aberystwyth College. Betty lodged with 10 other students in one of the bay’s hotels. “There was a certain amount of mischief because it was the first time we were all living together,” Betty says, “but most of the boys had gone to the war!”

Unable to finish her studies with UC, Betty did her final year at Birkbeck College. “I arrived there one Sunday morning to rescue books that had been housed in their basement after the firebombing of Fleet Street the night before,” she recalls.

Photos of centenarian Betty Romar from when she was a young lady

Despite graduating with one of the highest scores in her year group, Betty found that career opportunities for women were limited to teaching, nursing and the civil service. She recalls rushing into marriage and had two children before starting a career in teaching. “As the war was on, you got married really quickly because you thought you’d be dead in five minutes!”

Eventually separating from her husband, Betty met Alan, whom she spent 50 happy years with, adding two stepdaughters to her family.

Her secret to a long life?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost my curiosity. I’m fascinated by people and how we all work together. I don’t think we can live in a world where we don’t share things.” And to recent graduates, she adds, “Be involved and take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities around you. Experience as much as you can and read even more.”

Do you have a UCL memory to share? We’d love to hear from you. Just email us: alumni@ucl.ac.uk

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Despite graduating with one of the highest scores in her year group, Betty found that career opportunities for women were limited to teaching, nursing and the civil service. She recalls rushing into marriage and had two children before starting a career in teaching. “As the war was on, you got married really quickly because you thought you’d be dead in five minutes!”

Eventually separating from her husband, Betty met Alan, whom she spent 50 happy years with, adding two stepdaughters to her family.

Her secret to a long life?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost my curiosity. I’m fascinated by people and how we all work together. I don’t think we can live in a world where we don’t share things.” And to recent graduates, she adds, “Be involved and take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities around you. Experience as much as you can and read even more.”

Do you have a UCL memory to share? We’d love to hear from you. Just email us: alumni@ucl.ac.uk

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Despite graduating with one of the highest scores in her year group, Betty found that career opportunities for women were limited to teaching, nursing and the civil service. She recalls rushing into marriage and had two children before starting a career in teaching. “As the war was on, you got married really quickly because you thought you’d be dead in five minutes!”

Eventually separating from her husband, Betty met Alan, whom she spent 50 happy years with, adding two stepdaughters to her family.

Her secret to a long life?

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost my curiosity. I’m fascinated by people and how we all work together. I don’t think we can live in a world where we don’t share things.” And to recent graduates, she adds, “Be involved and take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities around you. Experience as much as you can and read even more.”

Do you have a UCL memory to share? We’d love to hear from you. Just email us: alumni@ucl.ac.uk

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.