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Durham University News

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Mo Mowlam: College Principal recalls a student rebel with a love of people

(19 August 2005)

As a student at Trevelyan College, Durham University, in the late 1960s Mo Mowlam challenged the rules but displayed a great affection and concern for other people, recalls her former Principal, Miss Joan Bernard.

In 1968 Mo was among the third intake of students to the newly built women’s college, to read Anthropology and Sociology. She found that the residential life in college rather cramped her style.

She and some friends wanted to live out in a rented house after their first year – which is normal now but in the late 1960s nearly all undergraduates were expected to live in college for their whole time at university. The Principal eventually relented, but firmly reminded Mo that she may live out but she would always remain a member of Trevelyan College.

Miss Bernard, who was Principal 1966-79, added: ”When final exams came round, there was a great thump on my door and in came Mo Mowlam with a little suitcase and a terrible cold. She said ‘You said I would always be a member of the college, so I wonder if I could move into the Sick Bay. I don’t want to give all my housemates this cold so that it affects their finals.’ Of course, I agreed. Mo moved in, and I believe everyone took their exams without any problem. It shows Mo’s marvellous spirit and concern for others.”

Miss Bernard never met Mo Mowlam after her graduation but always followed her career with enormous interest and admiration. She said: “She has always been consistent and shown a great love for other people. Quite what we did for her as a College is difficult to say, but I think we gave her some scope to develop as a person and settle down – in her own way. That’s very much what the Durham collegiate system is about.”

She added: “I was particularly impressed by the way she set about her work as Northern Ireland Secretary. I recognised the same Mo I had known as a student. It is hard to believe she had so little time in the job but she made such a difference.“

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