Professor Sir Gordon Higginson, DL, FREng
Public Orator, Professor Neil Halliwell, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Thursday 11 July 2002.
Figuratively speaking, our honorary graduand today is one of the family. He has been here before. For as Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, he walked in countless academic processions like todays. He supported his Chancellor on the platform. In his Chancellors absence he conferred degrees with such geniality that every graduate he spoke to felt that he or she was the only person in the hall (and I assure you that this is true from personal experience).
Probably the only ceremonial role he
never undertook was playing the organ. Just as well perhaps, for he says
the only musical instrument he can play is the gramophone.
He acquired his turntable expertise
in Leeds, his hometown, where as an undergraduate he was secretary to
one jazz club and founder-member of another. But the academic work was
fitted in somewhere, for he went on to become a research student with
one of the most eminent academic engineers of his day.
In the fifties he worked for a stint
at the Ministry of Supply, where he met and married his wife Marjorie.
It is such a pleasure to see her here with him today. In 1953 he became
a lecturer at Leeds University and in 1965 was appointed to a Chair in
Civil Engineering at Durham where his major research strength was developed
in hydrodynamic lubrication and tribology Sir Gordon is co-author
of the standard book in that field. Not satisfied with this, he went on
to establish a further international research reputation, this time in
the field of bio-engineering.
The Higginsons stayed in Durham for
20 years, living in the nearby mining community of Billy Row. Gordon was
proud to be member of the Billy Row Working Mens Club (annual subscription:
two shillings a year) and for a long time afterwards listed it in Whos
Who as one of his clubs. He was allowed to play dominoes for them and
he became scorer for the darts team. He wasnt considered good enough
to play darts, you understand, but it was assumed that a Professor of
Engineering could add up.
At that time he drove a two-tone Wolseley,
painted in tasteful shades of mauve and pink and had an ambition to construct
a small suspension bridge in his back garden. Sadly for Billy Row, he
was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University before the ambition
could be realised.
His time at Southampton was marked
by unflagging warmth and humanity. He had a special sympathy for
and understanding of young people and he has an abiding belief
in the importance of grassroots development. He had and has
what we call the common touch. It enables him to find value
in everything he encounters and he is not afraid to show the delight this
value gives him.
Gordon retired in 1994, after nine hugely successful years at Southampton. Ironic, therefore, that his most conspicuous appearance on the national stage at first brought rejection. He chaired a Committee set up to advise on the reform of the A Level system. Despite gaining widespread approval, the famous Higginson Report was curtly rejected by the Conservative government. We will not speak of what was put in its place. Suffice to say that many of his committees proposals are now back in the political arena. He was knighted in 1990.
Gordons energy and unfailing kindness has led to many awards and distinctions. The honorary degrees conferred on him by universities up and down the land are testimony to the admiration and affection in which he is held by the academic community. As I said at the beginning, he is one of the family.
Chancellor, I present to you and the University, Gordon Robert Higginson, DL, PhD, FREng for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.
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