Prestigious honour for inspirational role model and leader
Press release issued: 18 July 2011
A year of enforced childhood quarantine led to a love of literature and subsequent commitment to education for Professor Paul O’Prey, who is today [18 July] being honoured by the University of Bristol.
He is returning to the city to collect an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his contribution to the University and the higher education sector.
But it was a serious case of tuberculosis which set a young Professor O’Prey on his career path, allowing him ample opportunity for bedtime reading and eventually prompting him to study English Language and Literature at Oxford University.
In 1977, two years into his studies at Oxford, he took a summer job working with the poet Robert Graves in Mallorca, which led to a lifelong friendship with the Graves family and provided the cornerstone for much of his future research.
Along with his wife Pilar, Professor O’Prey returned to England and started to study for a PhD in Bristol under the supervision of Professor Charles Tomlinson, which was to be the start of a long relationship with the University.
He combined part-time study with an academic position as an English tutor, as well as taking on the role of Warden at Goldney Hall – a position he held for 14 years.
After finishing his PhD in 1993 he sought a new challenge and became the University’s Director of Research Development.
This role quickly expanded to Research and Enterprise Development as Paul masterminded a successful bid for a new government-funded Enterprise Centre, one of only eight in the country at that time.
Helen Galbraith, Director of Planning and Deputy Secretary, is delivering the oration for Professor O’Prey and said: “Bristol’s successes have sown the seeds for the growth and development of enterprise across the higher education sector.
“This germination of activity prompted the formation of the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship, which in turn has supported thousands of graduates in establishing new businesses.”
In 2002 he was promoted to Director of Academic Affairs and, in the face of rising tuition fees, he championed the introduction of new bursary and scholarship schemes to ensure no student would be deterred from coming to study at Bristol on financial grounds.
His strong sense of community also extended to the city, where he helped to forge relationships with local authorities and businesses.
The next chapter of Professor O’Prey’s career took him to Roehampton University where he was appointed its first Vice Chancellor and has transformed it from an association of four independent colleges into a single cohesive institution with a clear vision and strong reputation.
He also manages to sustain his research interests in modern literature and war poetry, being the President of the War Poets Association and an active member of the Council of the Friends of the Imperial War Museum.
He is also active in higher education at a national level, being a member of the Board of Universities UK and chair of its Longer Term Strategy Group.
Ms Galbraith added: “Paul exemplifies many of the qualities and values to which any of our graduates might aspire. He is successful but self-effacing, a wise counsel and a willing listener, firm but always fair, hard-working but also dedicated to family life, friendly, personable and consummately professional.
“Above all, he has forged a career by pursuing what he loves, and always with a boundless sense of commitment and enthusiasm. He has never sought accolades and his surprise and humility in being nominated for an honorary degree only make him all the more deserving.”