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Honorary Degree Orations


Sir David Wallace

Public Orator, Sir Bryan Carsberg presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Thursday 13 July at 3.00pm


On first meeting, it is hard to avoid the impression that Sir David Wallace is a Scotsman. However, he came to Loughborough as Vice-Chancellor of our University in 1994 and devoted his enthusiastic energy to our objectives to the extent that he has become a “Loughburgher” (if that is the right term), through and through.

Nevertheless, we must give credit where it is due. It was in the primary school in the small Scottish border town of Hawick that David’s love of mathematics was first stimulated. The headmaster interrupted a class to set a test requiring some fresh reasoning. David said that he was hooked. The love of mathematics, kindled then, has stayed with him ever since. He decided recently to revisit mathematics. His report on the experience was typically enthusiastic. He had relished the elegance and beauty of the subject. The story about his primary school headmaster reminds us of the powerful effect that excellent teaching can have.

David went to Edinburgh University, where he took a degree in Mathematical Physics. He remained there to do a PhD in particle theory, a decision that may have been influenced by the presence of another student, Elizabeth Yeats, who was studying for a PhD in condensed matter. They married in 1970, the year David took up a Harkness Fellowship to do post-doctoral research on field theory techniques at Princeton. He continued his work on the applications of field theory at Southampton University and at Edinburgh University, whither he returned as the Tait Professor of Mathematical Physics in 1979.

Colleagues at Edinburgh remember him with affection. Working with him was fun and exciting, they say, because of his enthusiasm. They describe his return as bringing a ‘breath of fresh air’, but quickly amend that to a ‘gale of fresh air’. During his time at Edinburgh, he played a key role in the development of parallel computing, in which effective computing speed is increased by having computers solve parts of the overall assignment in parallel, while interacting with each other.

Among David’s personal objectives, the only one he has been seriously in danger of failing is taking proper holidays. That being so, it was heartening to learn that he regularly went home from his job at Edinburgh at 6pm, in order to have supper with his family. His delight at the birth of his daughter, Sara, during the Edinburgh years, no doubt helped to reinforce this practice.

Sir David’s twelve years at the helm were years of outstanding progress for Loughborough University. We climbed to reach sixth place in the recently published Times “Top Universities” table, behind only Oxford, Cambridge and three London Colleges. During David’s term of office, the University strengthened its research performance; it extended the campus, spending some £35 million to acquire the Holywell Park buildings and it invested in other new buildings; it merged with the Loughborough College of Art and Design to strengthen the arts component of our work and create a more rounded university; it increased its international profile, bringing many more international students to its campus; it raised its total of Queen’s Anniversary Prizes to five, a total not exceeded by any university; and it continued to develop active partnerships with major businesses. In sport, Loughborough is supreme and its position has been consolidated by the investment of some £30 million in new sports facilities. Loughborough’s achievements were, of course, the results of excellent team work but the performance of a team invariably owes much to good leadership.

David’s personal qualities will be remembered with affection. As a colleague said: “David doesn’t do boring.” At a potentially dull committee meeting, he would chivvy members into life and one saw the glint of satisfaction in his eyes as some hint of creative thought emerged. He set about developing fund-raising at Loughborough with all the intellectual enthusiasm that he had earlier applied to his academic work. He contributed to fundraising for charity by abseiling down the Whitworth Building and running the London Marathon in 1995. He learned to speak Mandarin Chinese, well enough to use it at degree ceremonies and be understood (by Chinese people). He has been passionate about the interests of students. On one occasion, he was kidnapped by the students, as part of a charity fund-raising, and unusually for Vice-Chancellors, people were prepared to pay for his release. He enjoyed warm relationships with our excellent Students’ Union; his ringing praise of the Union, in his speeches at graduation ceremonies, is unforgettable: “Simply the best, better than all the rest.”

In recent years, David has enjoyed increasing prominence on the national stage. He has been President of the Institute of Physics and, having been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986, he was chosen in 2002 to take on the important role of Treasurer. He once observed, at a Loughborough committee meeting, that he regarded accounting as “all smoke and mirrors.” Perhaps it was this insight that secured his success in the role. For all this, and much more, he was knighted in 2004.

In all his work, David has been strongly supported by his wife, Elizabeth, and in honouring David, we want to thank Elizabeth too for her contribution to the University. We wish them both success and happiness in Cambridge, where David will become Master of Churchill College and Director of the Newton Institute.

Chancellor: I present to you Professor Sir David Wallace, for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


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