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Thursday 8 July 2004


Professor Harry Thomason

Public Orator, Professor Ron McCaffer presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Thursday 8 July 2004 at 10.30am

Chancellor, Mayor of Charnwood, Ladies and Gentlemen and especially today New Graduates of Loughborough University.

The University awards Honorary Degrees for high achievement in a profession, or for service to the country and the community. Our Honorary Graduand today would merit the award of an honorary degree for any one of these reasons alone. Harry Thomason is a distinguished Human Biologist and Physiologist, specialising in human performance under extreme conditions such as deep sea diving or athletics.

This platform of expertise created the opportunity for Harry to make one of the most significant impacts on modern sport. Working on behalf of the Institute of Sports Medicine he introduced drugs testing to the 1965 Tour of Britain Cycle Race. Widely believed to be the first widespread drug testing at a major sporting event. This resulted in one European team being banned from the competition and Harry being an unwelcome visitor to that country for many years until the death of the ruling dictator.

In terms of service to others Harry has been active for the country and the community. For many years he was Treasurer of the British Association of Sports Medicine and is now their Vice-President. He was a Council Member of the Parliamentary University Group, a Member of the DTI/DfEE’s Education and Training Export Committee, a Member of the Government’s Committee for Middle East Trade, Chairman of the Governors of Leicester Grammar School, and member of the British Olympic Medical Committee.

Impressive enough, but it is not for these reasons that the University has chosen to honour Harry. This is one of those rare occasions that the University wishes to publicly recognise the service to the University of one of its own. Harry Thomason was a member of staff for 26 years and is very much one of the family. For what he contributed to the University we, today, say a very public thank you.

When the University wanted to create a new Department of Physical Education and Sports Science leading in research as well as teaching, it was to Harry Thomason that the University turned. The then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Clifford Butler, blatantly poached him from Salford University and during the 10 years of Harry’s leadership the new department grew in size and capability. It has become, today, the best in Britain, all built on the foundations that Harry laid down.

But Harry was too valuable to the University to let him lead a single Department so he was prevailed upon to hold a succession of senior posts in the University over the reign of no less than 4 Vice-Chancellors: he was a Pro-Vice-Chancellor (1985-1987) and Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor, now called Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (1987-1991). The post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Relations was especially created for Harry by the then Vice Chancellor Sir David Davies. Some years later Sir David Davies commented that he created the post for Harry because the University needed Harry’s social skills to interface with industry and government.

It was in this, his last job for the University which he held from 1989 to 2003, a total of 14 years, that Harry really shone. It was as if this was the reason that he had come to Loughborough, and it was in this role that he made his lasting impact on the University.

The descriptions Harry has attracted as he discharged his duties include the University’s best “roving ambassador” and “the acceptable face of the University”. He has a remarkable talent for getting alongside people, making them feel comfortable and persuading them to do business with the University. Responsible for forging strong relationships with Governments and industry, he worked with the Governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Jamaica, Egypt, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well as the UK. This portfolio of countries gave rise to the Vice-Chancellor’s most frequently asked question ‘Where is Harry?’

Most academic staff at Loughborough have links with industry - it is our way of doing business - but Harry took this dimension of our activity to new levels. Through him the University built links at Board level in companies and out of this have grown full partnerships which extend well beyond the normal research project or short course.

With Ford and BAE Systems, the University has deep, multi-facetted links ranging from sponsored Professorships, large research programmes, comprehensive suites of education and training including short courses, undergraduate programmes , postgraduate programmes and PhDs, and links with schools here and abroad. These sorts of partnership are now characteristic of Loughborough but are uncommon in other universities. The Henry Ford College and the Systems Engineering Innovation Centre (SEIC) are conspicuous evidence of these partnerships.

In forging these partnerships Harry also taught the University staff the value of working together because to deliver the outputs that the companies were seeking took University wide effort. He taught us in working with industry that the three most important actions were to listen, to listen and to listen, and by doing so we would understand industry, its issues and the research we could deliver that would solve their problems. He knew that our competitors were too arrogant or insecure for this approach and that by listening we would develop the competitive edge.

These partnerships would not have happened if it had not been for Harry. Why?

Harry is someone that is trusted by the companies, who feel they can do business with him and the University. Harry is someone who is trusted by his academic colleagues who were and are prepared to follow him into new exciting relationships with industry.

Harry, who as a Lancashire schoolboy started by delivering eggs from the back of a lorry to local housewives is now retired, although he still keeps his involvement with industry and Government but now manages to spend a little more time on the golf course and sailing his boat on Lake Windermere.

The greatest joy in his life, nowadays as it always has been, is his family and particularly his grandchildren. With him today is his wife Marie and his son, Tim, and daughter-in-law Teresa. To all of them I extend the University’s welcome.

Chancellor, I present, Professor Harry Thomason, MSc, PhD,, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, for the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa and it gives me great personal pleasure to do so.


Loughborough University - Degree Speeches 2004, July 2004
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