Obituary: Sir Maurice Shock LLD

Posted by pt91 at Jul 24, 2018 10:50 AM |
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester from 1977-87

Maurice Shock, who died on 7 July 2018 at the age of 92, was one of the outstanding University leaders of his generation, serving, between 1977 and 1994, as Vice-Chancellor of the University, Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and finally Rector of Lincoln College Oxford.

Maurice was born in Birmingham in 1926 and attended King Edward’s School, where he was head boy. His military service from 1945 to 1948 was spent in the Intelligence Corps – a time which he described as being passed mainly playing games and reading; though some who worked with him subsequently felt that there was – and may have continued to be – rather more to it than that. He proceeded to Balliol College Oxford where he read, and achieved a first in, Politics, Philosophy and Economics. In 1947 he married Dorothy, whom he had met in 1944 at a sixth form conference which he had organised.

There followed a period of research at St Antony’s College and temporary posts at Christ Church and at Trinity College. It was presumably during this period that he was one of the team of assistants to Sir Winston Churchill in the writing of his monumental histories.

His first substantive appointment came in 1956 as Fellow and Praelector (Tutor) in Politics at University College, Oxford, where he was also Estates Bursar for fifteen years. He was responsible for the transformation of the appearance of the College, overseeing the creation of a number of new buildings, as well as rationalising the College’s property holdings and reinvesting successfully. He demonstrated similar interests and skills subsequently both at Leicester University and at Lincoln College, where a number of building developments are attributable to his vision and drive.

His contribution to Oxford was not confined to his college. He made his name on the University stage as a member of the Franks Commission of enquiry into the administrative structure of the University, and was one of the youngest people to serve on the University’s governing Hebdomadal Council. He had a long association with the Oxford Union, for which he was Senior Treasurer for eighteen years, a role which reinforced his standing at the heart of the University during a turbulent period in student affairs.

Respected for his far-sightedness and for his ability to place things in their historical context, Maurice had a tendency to allude to the past and the future - a characteristic which prompted colleagues to keep score at College meetings, with some wagering whether, or by how much, the future would outscore the past.

When he came to Leicester as Vice-Chancellor in 1977, it had been a fully independent university for only 20 years. This proved to be the end of the period of rapid post-war expansion in provincial universities; and as the University celebrated the 25th anniversary of its charter in 1981-2, he also faced the challenge of leading it through the funding reductions imposed on the HE sector by the first Thatcher administration.  This he did with typical sang froid, sympathy for the position of those affected, and a determination to achieve the minimum savings necessary with the least possible damage to academic productivity and morale. There were difficult and prolonged debates in Senate. As one observer said, “these he dealt with like a super grand master playing simultaneous chess against sixty other grand masters, all with their own complicated gambits. With his sharp incisive mind he could produce the answer to extremely difficult questions in the time it takes to change a pair of spectacles - a ploy that he exercised with an exquisite sense of timing.”

Notwithstanding the financial problems, the University continued to progress under his leadership. Colleagues in the arts and social sciences may have felt that he favoured the science disciplines at the expense of those closer to his own field. Certainly there were some important scientific achievements – not least the discovery of DNA fingerprinting by Alec Jeffreys in 1984; and a distinctive feature of his time at Leicester was his nurturing of the nascent medical school. A close and lasting working relationship and friendship with the Dean, Robert (later Lord) Kilpatrick, was at the heart of this. Together they established and maintained strong partnerships with the local health authorities, and ensured that the academic and clinical leadership of the school made it the equal of older, larger and better endowed institutions.

The original Medical School building was appropriately renamed the Maurice Shock Building following his retirement; and his continuing interest in medicine and the health economy were further reflected in his subsequent membership of General Medical Council; his chairmanship of the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust; membership of the Health Board of the RAND Corporation; and an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians.

From 1985 to 1987 he was chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (predecessor of the present Universities UK), where his diplomatic skills and mastery of what would now be called networking were invaluable in defending the sector during difficult times.

The University awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1987, and he was knighted for services to education in 1988.

Returning to Oxford in 1987 as Rector of Lincoln, Maurice continued his keen interest in the development of the institutions to which he belonged. He is credited with recognising, some time before other Oxford and Cambridge colleges, that active professional fundraising would be essential for the College’s future development. He established its first Development Office, and with the proceeds of a campaign was able to complete the redevelopment of the College’s commercial properties in the High Street and Bear Lane – giving Lincoln an academic presence on the south side of the High. His affection for his adopted college was apparent.

It was said of Maurice Shock that he always seemed to have “serene and instantaneous comprehension” of the most complicated issues, and he was well known for being far-sighted.  In his dealings with others – whether they were pupils at Oxford, University colleagues or fellow members of national organisations, he was always civilised, companionable and entertaining. For colleagues, it was impossible to come away from a meeting with him (even on difficult topics) without feeling encouraged. As one Leicester academic recorded when he consulted him about applying for a personal chair:

The vice-chancellor … suggested that I should not pursue the matter further. … He combined firm resolve with considerable charm. I always told people he was the kind of chap who, in sentencing you to death, could make you feel quite good about it!

Even in institutions where intelligence is the common currency, Maurice was recognised as having a formidable intelligence, combined with a talent for inspiring loyalty. If at first there seemed to be an element of mandarin detachment about him, this did not survive closer acquaintance. He was warmly remembered both for the breadth of his analysis of the topic under discussion in the weekly tutorial, and for his establishment of lasting friendships with his pupils; while colleagues remember him also for the relaxed, calm, kind and efficient way in which he dealt with business and personal matters of all kinds.

The death of Dorothy in 1998 after over 50 successful years of marriage was a considerable blow. In his later years he had the comfort of a new close personal relationship with Helen Callaway, but this friendship was brought to an abrupt end by her premature death.

He leaves a son and three daughters.

Nigel Siesage (with acknowledgment of the LLD oration by Professor Aftab Khan)

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