Printer Friendly

Interview: Ruth Lawrence - I will not put my son through the hothouse training used to get me into Oxford when I was only 12. I want my Yehuda to have a childhood, not be forced to be different; RUTH LAWRENCE ON THE SPLIT WITH HER FATHER AND BECOMING A MOTHER.

SHE was the child prodigy who cycled around Oxford University, her gown billowing behind her as her father pedalled in front. Not on separate bikes, but riding on the same battered tandem. Maths genius Ruth Lawrence and her father, teacher and mentor Harry were so close. Back then, they always talked of "we", as if "I" simply did not exist.

Now father and daughter are thousands of miles apart and the girl who made history at 12 by becoming the youngest student to enter Oxford has a son of her own.

Divorced and with no work permit, Harry Lawrence lives alone in Michigan in the United States where he had moved with Ruth before research took her to Jerusalem...and into the arms of her husband. The rest of the Lawrence family is flung far and wide too. Ruth's younger sister is in London and her mother Sylvia, who has remarried, has settled in Zimbabwe.

But the widest and most surprising divide is between Ruth and the father who was such a big influence on her life. They last saw each other in January, so he hasn't even seen his grandson. The "we" has become "I."

Now, as her old university is embroiled in a bitter political row over allegations of elitism, Ruth has spoken for the first time of her own childhood and how she and husband Ariyeh Neimark plan to raise three-month-old Yehuda Bezalel.

With Yehuda, there will be no repeat of the "hothouse" teaching methods Harry Lawrence used with Ruth which saw her gain an O-level at nine and a First Class degree at Oxford when she was just 13. "My father and I never liked the term hothouse," she says. "But there will not be any forcing, no attempt to try and push Yehuda faster than he wants to go."

Then Ruth, now 28, adds carefully: "I, though, was always eager to learn more.

"I want Yehuda to develop in a natural way," she adds. "My husband and I will not do exactly as everybody else does when they bring up a child. But I don't want Yehuda to be 'different'.

"Like any parents, we want our son to do as well as he can in every aspect of his life. We also want him to be a rounded person. I enjoy being a parent and yes, it has changed me.

"I now have a completely different view of life. Having a baby cannot possibly be compared with academic results.

"They are entirely different. It is miraculous, it is not like passing an O-level. And I will have more children, I hope.

'I want my child to be able to develop in a natural way'"I suppose I might have liked my childhood to be different in some ways, but I do not want to judge my parents. And I do not envy them.

"I was not in their shoes. I very much appreciate the effort my father put in. I am enormously grateful for what he did for me. I can see now that being a parent is very difficult."

Ruth met Israeli mathematician Ariyeh three years after leaving the United States for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

According to friends, they shared an "instant attraction" as well as a fascination with mathematics.

At 57, Ariyeh, a divorcee, is more than twice Ruth's age and only six years younger than her father.

Their wedding two years ago immediately led to claims that she had simply married a father figure to replace the one that had played such a pivotal role in her life.

It's an allegation that she is quick to deny. "Obviously, it is an unusual marriage, but I'm unusual and Ariyeh is unusual too.""

Just as startling is the way Ruth embraced the Jewish way of life. Despite her father's Jewish heritage, she was not raised in any of the faith's traditions - while her mother had no interest in any religion at all. Now Ruth wears long-flowing robes that hide her arms and ankles while her head is always covered and she speaks Hebrew. She doesn't wear make-up and has a quiet poise and dignity beyond her 28 years.

"I was always fascinated by my father's Jewish background ," she says. "It was not an overnight decision, it was something I had been thinking about since my childhood.

"Judaism was something I wanted to learn more about when the time was right. I became an observant Jew six years ago. It's not something one usually publicises, although I am happy and proud to be a Jew and be here in Israel."

Following Jewish tradition, Ruth and Ariyeh were formally introduced as potentially suitable partners. Couples are not allowed to even touch until it is deemed that they are intellectually compatible.

Ruth has a full-time maths post at the Hebrew University, but her undoubted academic gifts do not appear to have brought any tangible, material benefits.

Home is a basement flat in the run-down Jerusalem suburb of Bayit Vegan. The five-storey building is on the long and dusty Uziel Street, home to a large number of Orthodox families. As we talk she breaks off to stamp on a cockroach scuttling across the floor. "Obviously I miss many things about being in Britain. I certainly enjoyed my time there.

"But one thing I do not miss is all the attention. I very much feel I've found my natural place in Israel.

"I am known for my mathe-matics here - there is no public scrutiny. I still take maths very seriously. By no means have I given up everything to become a mother. And the jobs at home are shared, I am not bound by the home.

'I have a husband and son -before it was just maths'"But I obviously have three big responsibilities now with my husband and son, whereas before it was just solely mathematics."

In Michigan her father is finding it hard to adjust to life without Ruth. The joy that the new life has brought Ruth has left 63-year-old Harry Lawrence alone and unable to work without an employment visa.

There is an air of melancholy in his voice as he says: "Ruth is my legacy in a sense and more of me has gone into her as she grew up than many parents can claim. And I see nothing wrong with that.

"In England I found people were afraid or did not understand Ruth's excellence and special abilities and there was often a dislike for our relationship and my efforts in dedicating myself to her.

"It has been a tour de force, I have to admit. But my relationship with Ruth is quite different now because I devoted much of my life to her - and now she is gone.

" Of course I miss her very much now but one has to move on with one's life..."

Ruth and her father last met at the beginning of the year.

"It's not as if she has disappeared. She is just not here with me any more, that's all, he says. "It's different.

"Ruth is an exceptional person in every sense and I am enormously proud of her. Now she is her own person and very much launched in life.

"I don't know how I would describe my life in terms of sacrifice, but I did give up some things to be able to teach Ruth. When I dedicated my life to Ruth I did get to spend some time with my other daughter Rebecca...but not a great deal."

Rebecca also has yet to see the baby. In fact, the last time she saw her father or sister was at Ruth's wedding in Jerusalem two years ago.

Yet pinned to her noticeboard at home in England, is a photograph of Yehuda, taken just a few weeks ago.

"He's gorgeous," she says. But ask her when she will be seeing him and the answer is vague. "We're trying to fit in a trip," she replies.

'I devoted my life to Ruth, and now she is gone'Ruth's first pregnancy scan last year, the first signs of a bump, the excitement of his first kick were all precious moments the sisters shared in e-mails.

But they seldom experienced such closeness when they were children themselves, growing up in Huddersfield.

"Ruth was in one room studying all of the time and I was in another working on piano exercises," recalls Rebecca, now 26.

"It didn't seem odd because we never knew anything different. On Saturdays and Sundays I recall spending hours in the garden in a plastic pedal car that I loved to play on. Ruth preferred her books, but I certainly don't remember feeling lonely or unhappy."

She pauses again, pondering before offering anything further. "No," she emphasises, finally. "We definitely weren't unhappy."

The two girls' extraordinary, some would say bizarre, early life was dominated by their father's decision to teach them himself.

Like any father, says Rebecca, he wanted only the best for his children and believed passionately that what he offered was better than any school.

Like Ruth, Rebecca excelled. She gained an A grade in O-level maths at 11 but preferred the piano, sailing through grade seven even earlier at eight.

"Ruth happened to be very good at maths and so dad concentrated on her while mum taught me. But mum was a little more liberal and knew I enjoyed the piano.

"She played herself and I seemed to take to it naturally. Ruth and I were given a rounded education - not just maths and music but English and science too.

"But Ruth seemed to take to maths and I seemed to take to music. It was as straightforward as that. An accident really, no master plan as such.

"Neither of us saw working as a chore.

"We didn't have any friends but then we'd never had any and so didn't know what we were missing.

"Neighbours' children would climb our garden wall and call us names because we were different but we just ignored them.

"The attention focused on Ruth was always intense," she says.

"She was so young that dad had to go with her to Oxford and that was obviously difficult for mum.

"They more or less split then but it was no-one's fault."

By then nine, Rebecca was free to go to school for the first time - to fee-paying Chetham's School of Music in Manchester.

"It was strange at first, being with other children, but I began to enjoy it. I was still very much Ruth's sister and that was the only thing people wanted to talk to me about.

"I was too young to really understand what Ruth getting to Oxford was all about, but it was exciting. One day I remember being under siege at home with mum. Ruth had passed some exam or other and everyone wanted to talk to mum about it. There were people everywhere.

"I wasn't envious of her and after a couple of months all the fuss seemed to die down.

"We didn't lose touch with dad and Ruth because there was the phone and we'd write letters sometimes. Sadly, though, none of us has ever been much good at that.

"Eventually, I was speaking less and less to Ruth and dad because they were so entrenched in their work," she says.

"We would write and ring though and stayed in touch.Mum and I remained close. I suppose Ruth and dad had each other and mum and I had each other."

When Rebecca began a pharmacy degree course at Cardiff University in 1991 she discovered her independence. She went on to gain a PhD in chemistry and works as an assistant editor on a specialist pharmaceutical industry magazine in London.

She now lives in North London with her fiance, Stephen Seelig, a 30-year-old social worker she met at the university hang-gliding club in 1993.

"I loved college," she says. "I had a fantastic social life.

"What Ruth did wasn't right for me and I don't suppose she would have wanted to do what I did."

And the man she turns to for advice now is not her father, but Kenneth May, 57, - the man her mother Sylvia, 60, married and is now living with in Zimbabwe.

"Ken makes mum very happy and that makes me happy too," Rebecca says.

She says she last spoke to Ruth "a week or so ago," a conversation dominated by excited talk of nappy changes, sleepless nights and new experiences.

"Motherhood does change people though doesn't it?," says Rebecca.

"People's priorities alter when they have a child to care for. It wouldn't surprise me if this didn't change Ruth totally.

'No-one in the family has seen her new baby yet'"I worry sometimes about where they are. Jerusalem can be a violent place and the TV pictures showing the violence on the streets are hard to watch.

"It would be good if she came home but I don't know if she ever will."

Like Rebecca, Ruth's mother Sylvia has not seen her new grandson yet. "Yehuda is gorgeous. I haven't seen him yet but Ruth has sent some photographs.

"It's really exciting to have a grandchild of my own.

"My husband Kenneth has some which of course I'm very fond of. But there is nothing quite like your first real grandchild.

"The last time I saw Ruth was at her wedding. I thought Ari was a good man and very nice person.

"Ruth's come through life pretty well, I think. Despite everything, she's turned out to be a mature and rounded person.

"She had a lot to cope with as a child but it doesn't seem to have adversely affected her, which is good.

"Although I don't have much to do with Harry nowadays, I know he's a proud grandfather because Ruth has told me. He's a pretty lonely character now I think.

"Ruth is in Jerusalem and has a life of her own and he's in America.

"Knowing what I know now, would I have allowed the same thing to happen when she was a child?

"Well, a lot of people would change a lot of things in their lives with hindsight wouldn't they?

"Perhaps I would have too."
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features
Author:Nicol, Mark; Wright, Simon
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 4, 2000
Next Article:The Diary: Snippets.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters