Degree Speeches
Summer 2003

Lord Wolfson of Marylebone

Public Orator, Professor David Wallace, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 30 June 2003

Chancellor, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen it gives me the greatest of pleasure to deliver this oration at today’s special degree ceremony.

Throughout the country, and indeed beyond, the name ‘Wolfson’ is inextricably associated with philanthropy. Today’s ceremony is a celebration of all that has been achieved by that philanthropic mission, and of the special role our honorary graduand has played in the development and execution of that vision during the past 48 years since he co-founded the Wolfson Foundation with his father and mother.

We should, however, not overlook the business activities which ran concurrently with the emergence of the Wolfson Foundation as such a force in the charitable world. Success in the world of business – let’s be candid, in the business of making money, generating profits and shareholder value – is a crucial element if philanthropic motives are to be given expression on the grand scale. Lord Wolfson’s record in this respect is outstanding, through his leadership of Great Universal Stores: 44 years on the board, 19 as Managing Director and 15 as Chairman. It is this success in the competitive world of business that has fuelled the vital work of philanthropy

The establishment, in 1955, of the Wolfson Foundation was to prove to be a milestone in the provision of philanthropic funding for activities spanning health, education, the arts and humanities. The Foundation has played a pivotal role in numerous projects and has frequently acted as a catalyst, drawing in other supporters and helping promising new developments reach fruition. This willingness to work with others has developed in recent years through designated umbrella programmes, for example with the Government and the Royal Society. Where the Wolfson name is associated with projects it has come to be associated not just with philanthropy, but invariably with the support of talent and excellence. By the year 2000, grants worth more than £300M had been provided – a figure equivalent in today’s terms of nearly three-quarters of a billion pounds.

There has been a particular emphasis within the Foundation’s funding on science and technology, research and education, so today’s venue, the Director’s Suite at the Science Museum by kind permission of the Directors, is particularly appropriate. Equally the emphasis on education, and especially Higher Education, makes today’s recognition of all that has been achieved by the Foundation’s magnificent support over many years most fitting. We are in turn conscious that, by accepting our award, you recognise our special place within science, technology and engineering.

The interests of the Foundation, and of its Chairman, also extend of course across medicine and the arts, and into other museums of the nation, and I suspect that it is in one of the financially smaller area of the Foundations support that you find your greatest pleasure. I refer to the Wolfson History Prize, awarded annually since 1972. It is a mark of your distinctive touch that the award seeks to recognise books that are both scholarly and also ‘readable and accessible to the general reader’. I heartily concur that excellence in scholarship need not obscure readability!

The impact of the Foundation, through the leadership of its Chairman, to the advancement of health, education, arts and the humanities has been, and continues to be, immense. Therefore, Chancellor, I present THE LORD WOLFSON OF MARYLEBONE to you, to all present, and to the University for the Degree of DOCTOR OF LETTERS honoris causa.

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