Fanchon Fröhlich, 1927-2016
(from the funeral service)
I first met Fanchon in 1962 at a social event at Liverpool University, during my 2nd year as a physics undergraduate, and in 1965 became her husband’s final doctoral student – her husband being the internationally renowned theoretical physicist, Herbert Fröhlich. After I left Liverpool in 1968, I kept in regular touch with them both, Herbert, until his death in 1991, and Fanchon, until a few weeks before her death whilst she was resident in a Care Home in Norris Green, following a fall in her house. I had thus known her for some 54 years – she was one of my oldest friends, and someone to whom I have much to be grateful; I will miss her greatly! She exuded an infectious enthusiasm for the many fields in which she was interested, and remained her husband’s greatest champion right up to the end. I will now attempt to give you a flavour of her long and varied life.
Before doing so, however, and the one here today who has probably known her the longest, I would like to thank all who strove to make her final years as comfortable as possible – especially those known to me personally – Nicole, Jane and particularly Geoffrey.
Fanchon was born in Waterloo, in Iowa, USA on 9th July 1927 – the only child of 2 Austrian émigrés from Vienna whose family name was Aungst.
At the University of Chicago, she studied the Philosophy of Science under the philosopher Rudolph Carnap, who himself had left Vienna in 1935 because of the rise of Nazism.
Fanchon arrived in Liverpool by boat in 1949, en route to Oxford to further her studies at Somerville College under Peter Strawson, in post–Wittgenstein linguistic philosophy. However, before continuing to Oxford, she remained for a while in Liverpool where she attended (in a large house in Gambier Terrace) the local German Circle, which at the time was frequented by a number of aristocratic European intellectuals, such as Baroness Rausch von Traubenberg and Baroness Erisso (the mother of the singer Marianne Faithfull). It was there that she was introduced (by Erika Wirtz, a lecturer in German at the university) to her future husband, Herbert Fröhlich, who had himself been a refugee, first from Hitler and then Stalin,
She and Herbert married the following year on Monday 26 June 1950 upon his return from an extended visit to USA; she was then 22, and he was 44. That morning, her husband did not appear at coffee in his department, which was unusual since it was known that he was not away on a trip; neither did he appear at afternoon tea, by which time he was known to be in the department. In response to queries by those present, a colleague, who also had been absent at morning coffee, explained that Fröhlich had got married that morning, and was now catching up with his work!
After their marriage, Fanchon continued with her studies in Oxford, until 1953, gaining a B Litt degree, part of her dissertation on ‘Primary & Secondary Properties’ being published in the journal ‘Mind’. She later published numerous other papers in philosophy, art & scientific journals.
She then studied painting, firstly at the Liverpool Art School, where she held a Liverpool Travelling Scholarship, and later with Peter Lanyon in St Ives, Cornwall. In 1972, she went to Japan to study ink painting in Kyoto with Goto San. She exhibited her paintings in galleries in Liverpool and in Paris, where she painted and etched at SW Hayter’s famous Atelier 17 for a number of years.
She was a friend of Erwin Schrödinger, and, until 1956 when he returned to Vienna, she and her husband often visited him in Dublin during the time he was Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies.
In 1961, her husband gave her name to a group of elementary particles whose existence he had predicted from a novel theory he had just published, and which were later discovered (as K* vector meson resonances) experimentally.
In 1965, she and her husband were in Alpach in the Tyrol, where she was attending a conference on science and life whilst Herbert indulged his love of mountain climbing. At the conference, she meet Maurice Marois, a Professor of Medicine at the Sorbonne in Paris, and it was out of this meeting that Herbert was persuaded to embark on one of his final fields of research – namely, with trying to understand how theoretical physics might help us understand better the nature of life – a subject that continued to occupy him for almost a quarter of a century until his death in 1991, and in which Fanchon actively participated, attending conferences with him, and authoring a number of articles. After Herbert’s death, she continued to champion his work in this field (she was always his biggest supporter), and remained a regular participant in international conferences in Prague and in Neuss (Germany), where we often met up.
In 1972, she accepted on behalf of her husband – who was at the time convalescing after a major operation – the prestigious Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society.
During the late 1960s, she wrote a number of plays under the pseudonym Leslie Faust, such as I have a beetle in my black box, which was a mixture of Liverpool beat and Wittgenstein logic, the title being based of that of a famous thought-experiment that Wittgenstein had introduced in his Philosophical Investigations, in connection with his researches into pain. Around the same time, she and her husband devised a ballet based on the interaction of fundamental particles, which they proposed to Covent Garden, but which was never performed.
Fanchon and her husband were keen supporters of the Great George Community Arts Project during the early 1970s, and I recall a nostalgic visit with her to the ‘Blackie’ about 5 years ago.
In 1991, after her husband’s death, founded ‘Collective Phenomena’, a group of painters collaborating on a single surface, one continuing or contradicting the lines of the other in a kind of visual counterpoint, sometimes accompanied by the composer Lawrence Ball with pianistic improvisations reflecting their movements.
She loved travel, the theatre, cinema, dancing, and going to restaurants, and we often used to eat in the Everyman in Hope St, and more recently in the ‘Quarter’, near the Art School’, where she was well-known to both staff and patrons.
In all, she was a truly remarkable, multi-talented, generous woman whose interests crossed boundaries between art, philosophy and science; she fervently believed in a holistic approach to life, and espoused Buddism.
After her sufferings over the past few years, may she now rest in a deserved peace!