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Elaine Funnell Memorial

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Professor Elaine Funnell passed away on 9th November 2019.

This is a place for everyone who knew Elaine to share our memories of her and through this to help celebrate her life.

If you would like to contribute please send your post to Grace Rice, grace.rice@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk

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Elaine Funnell came late to academic life, entering the University of Reading as a mature student after a career as a music teacher in primary and secondary schools. She remained at Reading to undertake a PhD with Alan Allport. Within a year of starting the PhD, student and supervisor had published a paper in the world’s oldest scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London

Elaine then worked as a research fellow with Max Coltheart at Birkbeck College, studying acquired dyslexia. At the time, Birkbeck was a major centre for research in cognitive neuropsychology, the field to which Elaine would devote the next thirty years. At the end of her fellowship, Elaine was made a lecturer at Birkbeck. Four years later she moved to Royal Holloway where she achieved rapid promotion to Senior Lecturer then Professor of Neuropsychology. She held a succession of research grants from the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the Wolfson Foundation and other bodies. Elaine studied semantic memory, its breakdown in semantic dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and its influence on reading, sentence comprehension and object recognition. Her collaborators included John Hodges, Michael Kopelman and Karalyn Patterson. 

At Royal Holloway, Elaine supervised eight of her own PhD students through to successful completion. One of Elaine’s first PhD students was Nikki Pitchford whose undergraduate project at York had analysed the speech and language problems experienced by a six-year-old girl following a stroke. Nikki and Elaine continued to monitor the girl’s recovery over a period of two years, reporting their findings in the journal Aphasiology. That project stimulated an interest in the under-investigated topic of acquired disorders in childhood that continued alongside Elaine’s work with adults. 

Elaine had a strong commitment to taking the fruits of research out to a wider audience. In 2004 she was President of the Psychology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Association). She and Morag Stuart edited a book on learning to read that was designed to bring teachers up to date with research on the topic. Elaine and Glynn Humphreys produced a set of videos of patients with neuropsychological disorders that were widely used in undergraduate teaching. The videos were put together sensitively and were invaluable teaching aids. 

In the 1980s, Elaine was one of the founding members of the Cognitive Neuropsychology Interest Group which  provided a forum at which researchers could share findings and ideas. CogNIG, as it was known, was subsequently incorporated into the new British Neuropsychological Society. Elaine was a member of the Steering Group that laid the ground work for the BNS. She was the Society’s President from 2002 to 2004 and its archivist for many years. 

From left to right: Jo Willison, Narinder Kapur, Mike Kopelman, Elizabeth Warrington, Andrew Mayes, Barbara Wilson, Alan Baddeley, Karalyn Patterson, Elaine Funnell. 

Elaine’s efficiency and manifest common sense meant that she was always in demand. She was Honorary Secretary of the Experimental Psychology Society from 1993 to 1996 and was made an honorary life member in 2008. She also served on the committees of the British Aphasiology Society and the Cognitive Section of the British Psychological Society and was a member of the Psychology panel for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. 

Elaine was planning a volume of her publications in neuropsychology but was prevented by illness from bringing that project to fruition. Nikki Pitchford and Andy Ellis made their own selection and provided a Preface describing Elaine’s life and work. Acquired Disorders of Language in Adulthood and Childhood: Selected Works of Elaine Funnell (Routledge, 2017) also contains a paper with Michael Kopelman on verb processing in semantic dementia that Elaine was unable to complete, plus recollections of her by Alan Allport and Max Coltheart. Elaine made a deep, understated contribution to the development of neuropsychology in the UK. She will be missed. Colleagues are invited to use this page to share their own memories of her. 

Andy Ellis, 20th November 2019