Degree Speeches
Summer 2002

Bridget Towle, CBE

Public Orator, Professor Bryan Woodward, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Monday 15 July 2002.


Loughborough University awards honorary degrees in recognition of distinction, in industry, commerce, academia, sports, voluntary service, the arts, and many other activities. Bridget Towle, whom we honour today, has had a distinguished career in industry and more than three decades of service as a youth leader. She graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in Economics, Law and Politics, then spent a year in Uganda as a teacher for Voluntary Service Overseas. She returned to work for the family hosiery company, Towles plc, one of the oldest established manufacturing firms in the East Midlands, with around a thousand employees. Here, she worked through a series of appointments, becoming a Director in 1972 and joint Managing Director from 1980 until 1994. During this period, she was one of only three women managing directors of public limited companies in the UK.

Despite an extremely active and demanding career in industry, Bridget has managed to find time to make a huge contribution to The Guide Association, the largest voluntary youth organisation in the UK. As the old adage goes: If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.

The Guide Association, recently renamed Girlguiding UK, is part of a world-wide movement that enables girls and young women to fulfil their potential and provides them with opportunities for self-development and personal achievement. It also enables them to take an active and responsible role in society through a distinctive, simulating and enjoyable programme of activities delivered by trained volunteer leaders. It is interesting to reflect that half the women born in the UK have belonged to The Guide Association at some point in their lives.

Among her many appointments, Bridget has been Commonwealth and International Advisor for Leicestershire, Division Commissioner for Loughborough, County Commissioner for Leicestershire, Chairman of the National Finance Committee, Chairman of National Training and Activities Centres, and Deputy Chief Commissioner of the UK and Commonwealth. Finally, in 1996, she was elected Chief Guide of the UK and Commonwealth Chief Commissioner. In this role she was the voluntary Head of Guiding in this country for a membership of almost 700,000.

For five years she steered The Guide Association through a process of great change to ensure that it remains relevant to the needs of girls and at the forefront of their non-formal education. In moving the organisation forward she made enormous efforts to raise awareness of its dynamic, contemporary nature. No part of the Association has been too small to warrant her attention and she has never lost sight of what is needed to motivate young people. This includes promoting teamwork, responsibility and independence – all in an atmosphere of fun – among the many life-long skills that Guiding activities offer. It includes also the can do attitude and encourages members to be the best they can be.

In 1990, Bridget received The Guide Association’s Laurel Award for outstanding service to Guiding, and in 2000 she received, personally from the late Princess Margaret, the then President, the Association’s highest award, the Silver Fish, in further recognition of her service.

Among her growing list of honours, Bridget is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Council Member of the University of Leicester and an honorary Doctor of Laws of the University of Exeter. In 2000 she was made Charity Trustee of the Year by the Charity Times magazine for her work with The Guide Association. The ultimate accolade came in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List with the award of a CBE for services to Guiding.

Bridget Towle exemplifies all that is commendable in voluntary service. Therefore, Chancellor, in recognition of her inspirational role as an outstanding youth leader, I present to you and to the whole University, Bridget Towle, CBE, to be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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