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Honorary degrees awarded today [Wednesday, July 19]

Press release issued: 19 July 2006

Bristol University is awarding honorary degrees to two prominent people at today’s degree ceremonies in the Wills Memorial Building [Wednesday, July 19].

Bristol University is awarding honorary degrees to two prominent people at today’s degree ceremonies in the Wills Memorial Building [Wednesday, July 19].

Mr Graham Robertson, OBE, will be honoured with the degree of Doctor of Laws at the 11.15 am ceremony.

Born in Bristol, Graham was brought up in the Hillfields district of the city.  After leaving school aged 14, he joined WD and HO Wills in their tobacco processing factory in Bedminster.

In 1947, Graham joined the army as a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers during which he was trained in various skills including sewing and tailoring together with the more traditional fields of driving tanks and bren-gun carriers.

However, his linguistic ability to translate between English and Swahili, which he had learnt after being posted to Kenya, were to become one of his most useful skills. He then served as an interpreter for 18 months with the King’s African Rifles.

He returned to England in 1950, and went back to work for Wills as a shop steward and labour activist. In 1961 Graham became a full time official with the Tobacco Workers Union and played a prominent role on the national stage as a negotiator, until his retirement in 1988.

In 1964 he stood successfully for election to the council of the City and County of Bristol. He served as a member of the Council’s housing committee for 22 years and as its chair for 14 years, during which he oversaw the building of 2,000 new council houses and release of land for private house building.

In 1982 Graham became the leader of Bristol City Council and served in this role for a further 13 years. His commitment to negotiate hard for the best interests of the city haven’t gone unnoticed. He helped lay the foundations for the city’s successful transformation into one of the leading provincial cities in the UK with an increasingly international profile, supported the establishment of the Bristol-China Partnership also helping to negotiate the sale of the Port of Bristol and Bristol Airport. During the latter years of his political career he was elected to serve three successive terms as the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Bristol and was later awarded an OBE.

Mr Bhikhu Patel, Managing Director, Waymade Healthcare PLC, entrepreneur and philanthropist, will be honoured with the degree of Doctor of Laws at the 2.30 pm ceremony.

Bhikhu was born in 1947 and brought up in the isolated town of Eldoret, Kenya.  His father sadly died when he and his siblings were young leaving his mother to support the entire family. After finishing his O-levels, and in order to save for a fare to England, he got a job in a bank.

After arriving in England Bhikhu enrolled at Kilburn Polytechnic, London and after doing well in his A-levels gained a place at Bristol University, graduating with a degree in architecture.

Having gained his degree and now professionally qualified, he launched a promising career in architecture. However, in 1980 he decided against the safety of a professional career and just five years after qualifying he invested £15,000 he had been able to save in his first business, two newsagent shops in Woolwich, London.

An innate flair for business soon trebled the turnover, making it possible for Bhikhu and his brother Vijay to establish their first company, Chemys Dispensing Group, based on a chain of six pharmacies. Waymade Healthcare PLC followed in 1984, supplying pharmacists with branded and generic prescription drugs. The company was a huge success and their capacity to spot new opportunities to develop the business has led to the business that today employs 600 people at its Essex headquarters and is worth £394 million. It is now one of the top ten UK pharma companies. In 1985 he founded the Sovereign Property Group, also extremely successful.

Both brothers have received numerous business awards both in Europe and in Asia. Waymade has regularly featured in Europe’s top 500 Dynamic Entrepreneurs and in the Deloitte and Touche Technology Fast 50 list every year since 2001. In 2005 the brothers set up the Shanta Foundation Charitable Trust, supporting projects ranging from schools including one in Eldoret where they were born, the creation of wells, a blood bank building in Gujarat together with other medical provisions such as eye and polio camps. In 2006 they were awarded the Coutts Special Award for Family Philanthropy. Most recently they founded their own Waymade College of Arts and Education in India to support the training of teachers in English.

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