Saturday 26th March 2022
Words given by Dame Judith Macgregor (1971, History).
Fiona. Ladies and Gentlemen. Fellow Alumni.
Thank you for the chance to say a few words at our Gaudy today. Let me give my welcome to the Class of ‘71 and add a few reflections.
My name is Judith Macgregor - Judith Brown when at College. I studied history, graduated in 1974, and then became a career diplomat for Britain for the next 40 years. Now I am a Chair of several Boards including the British Tourist Authority and a member of the LMH Advisory Council. It is not often possible in our peripatetic life to attend College Reunions, but I'm very pleased to be here today.
The LMH of 1971 does seem a dry long way away. A college that was the furthest from lecture halls. A college only for women - where the gates closed at 9 pm and no wild flowers graced the front quad. With a beautiful but less tended garden. At a time where we used candles during the three day week and sat up all night to finish our essays…A more formal time in many ways: where high table did seem rather high and women students still seemed rather novel! And where students were - generally - reckoned to more seen than heard!
But that same LMH was a revelation to me: someone who had had to leave school to sit my entrance exam as there were no facilities there and little encouragement. LMH was a place where I met like minded people, imbibed a fierce aspiration to excellence and saw in the work of the Dons and Principal: a real determination to use education for women to change lives.
For me at least, it was an eye opener to be in a College run by women for women- with remarkable role models and just simply, people who valued knowledge and integrity. I made real friendships that have lasted - keeping up also with my wonderful personal tutor - Sue Reynolds- until she died last year aged 92…
I benefitted hugely from all this. My experience at LMH inspired me to take on the FCO, an institution that had banned women from marriage until the year before I joined, and had no great faith in the prospect of women diplomats! It gave me the confidence to rise through the ranks, to become the first married woman Ambassador to serve as a Head of Mission in parallel to her husband and to lead the U.K. effort in such amazing countries as Mexico and South Africa. In my work I often came across many of the great role models that the College had fostered - in public and private lives.
And LMH has moved and evolved with the times. It was fully in the LMH tradition of reform and fairness to embrace at an early stage co-education and to look for male Heads of College. And both Duncan Stewart and Brian Fall were great examples. Under Frances Lannon the College undertook an amazing building programme which transformed the gloomy exterior of the College and allowed for a great expansion of numbers and energy into LMH.
Under Alan Rusbridger, and through the Foundation Year Programme, the College then embarked on a serious attempt to break through the glass walls of privilege and exclusion and offered finally a way for Oxbridge to begin a genuinely diverse recruitment. A reform programme that could not have succeeded without the whole-hearted support of the LMH teaching body.
I feel very proud of all of these achievements. They have helped to transform the attractiveness of LMH as a first college of choice for undergraduates and to maintain and indeed significantly to improve our academic prowess.
Looking ahead , we have a new Principal, Stephen Blyth, who will join in September, but during this interregnum year under Christine Gerrard, we have seen LMH continue its important efforts to promote inclusion, address student mental health and raise the College profile.
The future direction of travel is now clear: to expand that diversity, invest more in learning and teaching skills while supporting students in both their studies and their well being. It is a chance both to progress but also to consolidate what we have achieved to meet the challenge of providing world class education to an ever wider range of students.
In great part, this journey has depended - and will continue to rely - on the support and generosity of LMH Alumni: seeking like me to repay the College for all that it gave us all of those years back. Support through events like these but also in many other ways in which we can help improve the lives and choices of the students of today - through all of our means and all of our talents. Projects to make better use of our estate but also to give our teachers greater support and reach.
So I wish you a very happy Gaudy today - rediscovering old acquaintances and reliving old memories especially in the beautiful surroundings of this lovely Spring day. And I ask you on behalf of the Advisory Council to lean in and be engaged in this ongoing and remarkable project.
Dame Judith Macgregor