Leontia Slay obituary

Other lives: Marine zoologist who had a love of the sand dunes of Ynyslas in Ceredigion

My mother, Leontia Slay, who has died aged 91, was a marine zoologist who spent most of her adult life in Aberystwyth. She had a lifelong interest in the dunes at Ynyslas and the wider Dyfi national nature reserve in Ceredigion.

Born in Warrenpoint, County Down, to Cecilia (nee McCormick) and Bernard McCartan, Leontia was the second eldest of seven children. Her mother was a member of a wealthy family. Her father was a schools inspector.

After Mount Lourdes grammar school in Enniskillen and St Dominic’s school, Belfast, she studied zoology at Queen’s University Belfast and on graduation went to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, to do postgraduate research on great crested grebes, attached to the Edward Grey Institute of Ornithology.

In 1956 she took up a post as a lecturer in the zoology department at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University). In 1958 she married Desmond Slay, a lecturer in the English department and scholar of Icelandic medieval literature.

Leontia’s research career ended when they started a family. She founded the first pre-school playgroup in Aberystwyth in 1964. There were no formal rules or regulations at that time. The local education authority was not interested but gave its approval; public liability insurance was arranged through Leontia’s car insurance broker; and toys were either begged or borrowed. She was, a few years later, proud to be elected chair of the Pre-School Playgroups Association in Wales.

In the evenings, at home, she often hosted social gatherings of academic colleagues or friends from her various clubs, including Ladies Circle. In later life the house would be filled with extended family (including those who were university students locally) and visitors from all over the world. Leontia delighted in sharing with them her favourite places to spot red kites in the Cambrian mountains.

Over the years she developed a passion for Ynyslas, the wide expanse of sand dunes north of Aberystwyth that is home to many rare plants and animals. Most days, whatever the weather, she would go for a walk there.

She drew strength from her Catholic faith and at one time was chair of the parochial church council. In addition, she chaired the governors of St Padarn’s school and played a lead role in a range of interfaith gatherings in Aberystwyth.

At Llanerchaeron, the National Trust’s country house and estate, she was one of the first volunteers to work there in the early 1990s, making the 20-mile journey several times a week. She chaired the Llanerchaeron Volunteers Group and worked tirelessly to give guided tours and support educational work with local schools.

She was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016.

Desmond died in 2004. Leontia is survived by her five children, Deborah, Benet, Jonathan, Matthew and me, eight grandchildren, a great-grandson, and by three sisters and a brother.

Greg Slay

The GuardianTramp

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