Durham University honours leading national and international figures
(10 January 2013)
Durham University has honoured four successful national and international figures in equal opportunities and human rights, sociology, music and natural burials at its Winter Congregation celebrations.
Durham’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chris Higgins, presented honorary degrees to prominent figures in their fields.
Baroness Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law.
She said: “It is a great privilege to be honoured by Durham University, a university with a long and proud history where there is a strong commitment to the principles of social justice.”
Baroness Amos was nominated by Professor Lena Dominelli, from Durham University’s School of Applied Social Sciences (SASS), who first met her when they were both community development workers in the West Midlands in the early 1980s.
“Valerie is an outstanding individual who has contributed to the development of cohesive societies, championing human rights and social justice for women and minority ethnic groups in the UK and across the world,” said Professor Dominelli.
“She has worked her way to the top from humble beginnings and provides an inspirational role model for staff and students affiliated to Durham University.”
Ken West MBE, the pioneer of natural burials, received an honorary Master of Arts. Mr West started his career in the funeral industry as a 15-year-old horticultural trainee in Shrewsbury Cemetery. He rose to become Bereavement Services Manager for Carlisle in the late 1980s and established the world’s first “green” burial service in 1993.
His lead has since been followed in North America, Australia and New Zealand. He was made an MBE in 2002 for his services to burial and cremation.
He said: "The death industry is rarely topical or appealing, so I feel overwhelmed to be recognised for my contribution to work in bereavement. I will also remain forever indebted to those people in the North, including Durham, who gave me support when natural burial was in its infancy in Cumbria. Without these passionate advocates, I would not be in this fortunate position."
Mr West was nominated by Professor Douglas Davies – among other members of Durham University’s departments of Theology and Religion, Anthropology and the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health – who said: “It is rare for a single individual to be hugely catalytic of a social trend that emerges distinct from new social policies forged by national or local government. He has, in effect, engendered a new British ‘way of death’, that has spread to over 200 sites.”
Musician Graham Johnson OBE received an honorary Doctor of Music. A pianist and accompanist, he has performed with the world’s foremost vocalists to critical acclaim. His is particularly noted for his commercial recordings of lieder – generally romantic poems set to music – and the scholarship of his liner notes for these recordings.
Mr Johnson also has a longstanding artistic relationship with the Wigmore Hall, and is chairman of the jury for the Wigmore Hall Song Competition. He is also Senior Professor of Accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music.
He said: “I am delighted to be honoured with a doctorate by a university with such an august musical tradition. As a performer who attended a conservatoire in his youth, rather than a university, I can think of no better centre of learning with which to be to be associated than Durham.
“By a very happy coincidence, my first and most important piano teacher was born and brought up in Bishop Auckland and often visited Durham as a little girl. Nearly 55 years after my first piano lessons from her, it is a joy to Nora Hutchinson-Smith that my doctorate should be awarded in the county of her birth. She is travelling all the way from South Africa for the ceremony.”
Mr Johnson was nominated by Sir Thomas Allen, Durham University Chancellor and world-renowned opera singer, who said: “Durham University, proud of its musically talented student body and its high performing music department, recognises the outstanding contribution made to music by Graham Johnson; not only in his services to performance, accompanying myself on various occasions, but also in his commitment to the furtherance of knowledge. He is, quite simply, an extraordinary fellow.”
Professor Huw Beynon, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters.
A distinguished industrial sociologist of international repute, he joined Durham University in 1977 and spent the next ten years here. It was a momentous period in the political economy of the UK and one that was to have a profound effect on his research. Once in Durham, he researched the mining trade unions and communities, which led to his involvement in contesting the Government’s policy of pit closures.
“The twelve years I spent in Durham were amongst the most memorable of my life,” he said. “Obviously it is a great honour to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University. It is also very significant for me that the University has recognised the importance of academics working closely with local people and communities, particularly during these times of great upheavals and change.
“My strongest memories are of the warmth and generosity of the people I met as part of my research in the towns and villages across Durham and on Tyneside.”
Professor Beynon was nominated by Professor Ray Hudson of Durham University’s Geography Department.
Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “All of our honorary degree recipients have made outstanding contributions in their chosen fields and are a real example to our students of what can be achieved with drive, determination and skill.
“Our students benefit from research-led teaching, delivered by some of the world’s finest academics, and a truly unique student experience providing opportunities through our Colleges, sport, societies and outreach to develop key skills such as teamwork, leadership and critical thinking.”