Top honours for nine influential individuals

Influential individuals from the worlds of business, art, education, and more have received honorary degrees from the University of Leicester. The University bestowed the honorary degrees during its summer graduation ceremonies at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, from Tuesday 16 July to Friday 19 July 2019.

Among the recipients was George Davies, who is known for founding the clothing retailer Next and the fashion label George. A philanthropist, George donated £5.15 million to the University in 2017 to help support research into vascular limb disease. George said, “The thing that makes me prouder than anything I’ve achieved, is that this team at the University of Leicester has saved over 400 people from having their leg amputated in just over two years.” 

Also recognised this year was Bernard Greaves, an activist for LGBT+ rights for over 40 years. The first openly gay man to hold national office in a UK political party, Bernard was a key force in making the Liberal party campaign for the liberalisation of laws regarding homosexuality. Bernard said, “I still find it hard to believe that I’m standing here in the footsteps of so many great people who have been honoured by this University. This award has a great symbolic significance for LGBT people, and it is of great significance to them as an affirmation of the commitment of this University to LGBT issues. It means something very special to me to be honoured in this way by one of the leading universities in the world, so thank you very much.”

Sculptor and disability rights activist, Tony Heaton OBE, famous for designing Channel 4’s celebratory sculpture of the 2012 London Paralympic Games, was also honoured during this year’s ceremonies. Tony said, “Thank you very much, this is a tremendous honour for me, and I’m very pleased to accept it. My association with the University goes back many years. I have been incredibly lucky to work with the University’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries. They have welcomed me into their world and allowed me to share in a small way some of my insights and experience. It’s been my absolute pleasure to work with them, learn so much, and to see their work having such an impact across the world.”

Dr Richard Henderson, a molecular biologist who was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2017 in recognition of his work, was awarded an honorary degree. His work has made great strides in regards to the electron microscopy of biological molecules. Richard said, “I’d very much like to thank the University of Leicester for awarding me this honorary degree. Leicester has a strong record in structural biology and I’m delighted to be here, partly in support of these initiatives.” 

Also among this year’s recipients was Nazir Afzal, a former Chief Prosecutor in the North West who is known for his experience in cases regarding violence against women. A prominent opponent of forced marriage, FGM and honour killings, Nazir has been a dedicated campaigner for women’s rights throughout his career. Upon receiving his award, Nazir said, “It’s a privilege of immeasurable proportions to be honoured by the University of Leicester with a Doctorate in Law. I feel unworthy but I hope it will enable me to contribute greatly to the future of a University which I hugely respect.” 

Another 2019 honorary graduate was Christine Keates, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. An alumna of the University of Leicester, she is a passionate campaigner for teachers across Britain. Christine said, “It is an immense honour for me to receive this honorary degree. I am particularly pleased that I am receiving this award in the context of seeing so many young and talented people receiving the fruits of their hard work. I’ve spent my whole lifetime in education and to be recognised for my work with this award is the greatest honour for me for which you have my deepest thanks and appreciation.”

Professor Sir David Cannadine, an accomplished historian and President of the British Academy was also honoured. David is known for his studies of modern British history, in particular his work on researching how the class system in Britain has changed over time. Sir David said, “I am hugely flattered, greatly delighted, and literally honoured. It is a huge pleasure to join graduates on a great day of achievement, recognition and celebration. I feel in many ways very much at home in Leicester, although that in no sense diminishes my gratitude, but rather, increases it further.”

Also recognised this year was Graeme Barker CBE, for his accomplishments in archaeology. Known for his work on the Italian Bronze Age, Graeme received a CBE in 2015 for his work. Graeme said, “I’m enormously delighted to be so honoured by a university that holds such a special place for me in my life. Probably my proudest achievement in my professional life has been to have played a part, however small, in Leicester archaeology’s extraordinary trajectory of excellence.”

Professor Sir Peter Bell was also made a Distinguished Honorary Fellows during last week’s ceremony. This is the highest honour the University can bestow upon an individual. Distinguished Honorary Fellowships are awarded to individuals who have a substantial record of personal service to the University and who already hold an honorary degree. Sir Peter was recognised for his service to the University during his time in the Department of Surgery. On receiving his award, Sir Peter offered some advice to graduating students from the University’s Medical School. He said, “Congratulations on passing your degrees, it’s been hard work I know. Always do the best you can. Work hard in the service, speak to your patients properly and listen to your patients, it is difficult sometimes, but you have to do it properly. Make sure to talk to your patients and remember it is a great honour looking after them, but most of all, respect them. Treat everybody the same and you’ll do very well in life.”