Tribute speech to Lord Grocott (Chancellor)

Posted by pt91 at Feb 01, 2018 11:32 AM |

Ladies and gentlemen, today is an historic day. For we celebrate the contribution made by Lord Grocott, who is he stepping down from the role of Chancellor of this University, and has presided over his last degree congregation this afternoon.

Most of Bruce’s predecessors as Chancellor (there have been 5 of them) have been distinguished scientists, including several presidents of the Royal Society and three Nobel laureates. Bruce has been the first politician to hold the office, but he has another distinction which has made his chancellorship special: he is truly one of us – the first of our Chancellors to have been one of our own alumni.

Bruce studied Politics and a PGCE course, graduating in 1962.  There were fewer than 1000 students at the university in those days; about a quarter of the number of staff we have working here today.  He was secretary of the Labour Club, which was to have a major influence on his career. And he also met his wife, Sally, here who studied Sociology.  They have been married for 52 years.

The pride, understanding and attachment to the University that come from having spent some of your formative years in the place have underpinned the commitment which Bruce has brought to his duties.

After leaving Leicester, Bruce taught politics in Manchester University and Birmingham Polytechnic for a time, was a local councillor in Bromsgrove, and aspired to be elected to Parliament. But election to Parliament - and staying there once elected - is no easy matter. As Bruce recently reminded the House of Lords, in a typical sporting analogy, “My record is played eight, won four, lost four”. Despite these ups and downs, he served in the House of Commons for a total of 19 years.

It was in 1974 that he was first elected in Litchfield and Tamworth, losing five years later in 1979 with the election of a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher.   His career then took a rather unexpected turn when he joined Central Television as a presenter on their political programmes, going on to produce the very successful programme “Central Weekend”. This was an exciting time to be working in television and in some ways it was difficult for him to give it up, but his love of politics was too strong and in 1987 he was elected for another constituency, and remained for another 14 years.  In 1994, when Tony Blair was elected as Leader of the Labour Party, he asked Bruce to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary, a position he held for seven years, in opposition and in government.  It is a job calling for the most effective of political antennae and considerable diplomatic skills. Bruce served until 2001 - and this time it was not the electorate who decided his time was up. He accepted a move to the Upper House – the House of Lords as Lord Grocott of Telford – where he was appointed Chief Whip and a member of the Privy Council, attending Cabinet meetings.

Of course, like the rest of us, Bruce has his failings. He is a season ticket holder at Stoke City (The Potters), and has been attending games there for the last 25 years.  Stoke is the second oldest professional football club in the world, but despite the long history, their record is not spectacular.  They are currently 17th in the Premier League, one place off the relegation zone… (out of interest, Leicester are 7th). I checked how many titles, and cups they have won [hold up list].  They won the League Cup in 1972 and……, sadly, for Bruce, not much else…! It does at least demonstrate Bruce’s tenacity in continuing to hold the faith.  He is said to regard true happiness as seeing Stoke 3-nil up with only 5 minutes left to play – an experience which in reality is all too rare.

Perhaps it is no surprise then, to hear that there are two things Bruce would do if he won the lottery: the first would be to buy a striker for Stoke; and the second would be to satisfy his passion for steam trains by buying a locomotive (his father and his father before him were both railway men). Apart from the difficulty of knowing where to put it, this might at last save his long suffering family from wet weekend trips to Wales and other remote parts of the kingdom.

When he was installed as Chancellor five years ago, Bruce said that he intended to be an ambassador for the University at Westminster and elsewhere, and to be involved in its work wherever that was helpful.

Bruce has given the University the full benefit of his experience during the last five years. I have found it invaluable to be able to consult someone who knows and cares for the University, but is not constantly in the thick of it. Like much of Bruce’s contribution to government, this may not have been on public view. It may be intangible but it has been immensely important, both to me and to the Vice-Chancellor before me.

In the public domain, Bruce has played a vital part in establishing the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture series, which has attracted an impressive line-up of speakers including Lord Winston, Patricia Cornwell, David Puttnam, David Willetts and David Attenborough. This, we hope, will be one enduring legacy of his chancellorship.

And so to return to the ceremonial aspects of the job. Bruce once said, ''I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing, the rich would have kept more of it for themselves.'' Well, there is no payment for being a Chancellor, but that hasn’t affected Bruce’s hard work. Over the past 5 years, Bruce has been scrupulous in attending these degree congregations and meeting – however briefly – so many of our graduating students. I calculate that there have been 55 ceremonies and a rough estimate suggests he has shaken hands with over 10,000 students during that time. Bruce has been absent only twice – once when he broke his ribs, and once when he was celebrating his golden wedding anniversary with Sally, the fellow student whom he met here.  I think you’ll agree those were legitimate excuses for absence.

So, on behalf of the whole University, I would like to thank you, Bruce, very warmly, for all you have done for us; for those quick pints together after graduation; and for your warm words of support throughout that time.  We hope very much that you will keep in touch and that you will keep an eye on how we are doing in the future.  Your support has been truly appreciated.

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