A street of parked cars, with flood water almost covering the wheels


Published: 30 August 2018

Author: Terry Slesinski-Wykowski


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My husband, Jim, business partner, Neil Douglas, and I are off again to the 12th Annual Oxford Alumni Weekend and Pembroke College Dinner. It’ll be a great deal more enjoyable this year than the escape we made from Houston last year after Hurricane Harvey.

Jim, and I lost our collection of Oxford and Pembroke mementos and gifts along with all of our other possessions on Sunday, 27 August 2017.

The late Sir Roger Bannister, Brian Wilson, and Terry Slesinski-Wykowski at a drinks reception

The late Sir Roger Bannister and my adopted "Uncle" Brian Wilson, at the Pembroke College Dinner, during the 2017 Oxford Alumni Reunion.

Credit: Terry Slesinski-Wykowski


We awoke at 2:00 a.m. to the sound of bayou water rushing into our home in Houston, and within just a few minutes it felt as if we were walking on sponges as our beautiful, new carpeting was rapidly flooding. My office, the Pembroke Room, had my Oxford diploma, beautifully framed prints of Pembroke and my Distinguished Friend of Oxford award (2016). Our library, adorned with every copy of Oxford Today, neatly housed in their Oxford blue folders, my Oxford and Pembroke tea cups, framed Christmas cards of Oxford painted by Roger Bannister’s talented artist wife, Moyra, Pembroke Records since 1985 and all of our other books eventually crashed down from our library shelves and floated around the room.

The question at the moment was, to where do we retreat after our immediate escape to shelter?

We sought refuge in our second home, Oxford, at Pembroke College where we have been staying for every Oxford Alumni Reunion since its inception and for other events in Oxford. (See OXFORD TODAY, Trinity Term 2014, p.21.)

Not only was the timing perfect for attending the 11th annual Oxford Alumni weekend, but my business partner, Neil Douglas and I had previously set up meetings with Matthew Freeman (Pembroke, 1979), head of the Dunn School of Pathology and other key leaders and researchers for our writing and management consultancy projects.

These meetings were very productive and inspirational along with the lectures and other Alumni Weekend events, and were just what we needed to get our minds away from Hurricane Harvey’s devastation.

Our welcome from Pembroke College could not have been warmer from the moment we stepped into the Lodge and were greeted by the Porters - Roger, Rose and Steve. Flowers arrived for me in my room shortly afterwards from Andrew Seton and the Development team along with our Master, Dame Lynne Brindley’s gift of a gorgeous necklace and a scarf to add to my now completely depleted wardrobe.

Everywhere we went in Oxford, we were met and surrounded by empathy and the almost universal response, ‘I just can’t imagine what you went through!’ The weekend began with our annual pre-Alumni Weekend dinner with fellow alumni from Houston and UK friends and continued throughout the Weekend’s events, all contributing to a wonderful and productive diversion from the destruction we left behind in Houston.

I was seated at High Table at Pembroke on Saturday evening with my adopted Pembrokian uncle, Brian Wilson (Pembroke, 1946) who despite physical challenges, purposely travelled to be with me that evening. My friend Gill Coates also joined us at table. Dame Lynne Brindley presented her vision for the College which inspired us.

Year after year, it is heartening to experience the continued growth of our University and Colleges and the effort to stay and become better connected with the worldwide community of Oxonians.

The Alumni Weekends in Oxford and in cities around the world are extraordinary opportunities for staying in touch with intellectual breakthroughs in all disciplines at Oxford.

Returning to my beloved University of Oxford and Pembroke College will always be an honor for me. It’s exciting to cross the Atlantic in a few hours and re-enter the College and this unique environment of learning. There is no place like Oxford for inspiration, collegiality, networking and stimulation.

As a woman in these times, I thrive on the awareness of the brilliant minds and spirits that are leading this great Institution and providing leadership role models for me as a woman. Professor Louise Richardson, whom I first got to know through her research and book on terrorism, is providing outstanding leadership as Vice Chancellor. Dame Lynne Brinkley inspires me with her pursuit of intellectual vigor at Pembroke College. Ngaire Woods, leader of the Blavatnik School of Government, whom I first encountered at a New York North American Alumni weekend and later through lectures and panel discussions at alumni weekends, is changing the landscape of political and governmental life.

As Co-Chair of the Houston Oxford Society, a Distinguished Friend of Oxford and a Trustee on the North American Pembroke College Foundation, the University of Oxford has become my second home, physically, intellectually, emotional and spiritually. As one of my Fellows, the esteemed late Dan Gowler always emphasized, one comes to Oxford to learn, not to be taught.  In our writing and management consultancy, learning and seeking truth is the on-going driving force of all we do.

For some alumni, Oxford remains in the past, with the an occasional Gaudy. For me, Oxford is a place, a relationship, a treasure that is not to be missed, to have as one’s second home, as it has become mine.

Terry wishes to thank the Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, for a new Distinguished Friend of Oxford Award to replace the one destroyed in the flooding of 2017. Other lost mementos of Oxford were presented to her as a surprise by Nancy Brown at the Houston Oxford Society Holiday Party in December, 2017. Gill Coates’ gift of a Pembroke College print by Henry Slatter will join these works of art too, adds Terry.