Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Michelle Lewis MBE

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Merseysider Michelle Lewis is a phenomenon. Over the last 10 years or so, she has won dozens of awards, including an MBE, she's finished second, third, and fourth in the London Marathon, 3rd in the New York Marathon, and she's raised £2 million for charity. 

For any ordinary person, such amazing achievements would be unthinkable even in a lifetime, but the extraordinary Michelle Lewis did all this before she was 23 - it was her 23rd birthday last week.

Michelle was born in Whiston Hospital on 13th July 1982, and from the age of 6 months, was brought up by her grandparents, Sylvia and Robert Lewis. 

She was born with arthrogryposis (a stiffness of the joints), and curvature of the spine - in fact, there were so many things wrong with Michelle that no one thought she'd make it, but she has consistently confounded medical opinion. Doctors told her family she would never walk, but she proved them wrong. 

Much of her young life up to about the age of 14 was spent in Alder Hey Children's Hospital where she underwent 28 major operations, and was eventually able to get around with the aid of callipers.

Michelle began her education at a Special School at St Helens. It was a good school but Sylvia and Robert succeeded in their fight to get her into a mainstream state school from the age of 9. This proved a major challenge to Michelle who found herself being taught alongside unruly children, children who made fun of her disability. 

That she not only weathered this experience but came through it undamaged, devoid of cynicism, and steadfastly gregarious, is a reflection on her strength of character and her determination.

Michelle's first acquaintance with fundraising came at Alder Hey when she became the mascot for their 75th Birthday Appeal in 1991, at which time she received the Alder Hey Birthday Award. Getting a real buzz from the experience of meeting lots of interesting people, including celebrities, and raising lots of money, Michelle has been fund-raising ever since. 

Her great success as a fund-raiser, with approaching £2 million raised so far with the active support of the Liverpool Echo and The Daily Mirror, has been acknowledged locally and nationally:

  • She received the Woolworths Woolly Bear Award in 1995
  • The Echo Mersey Marvel Award in 1996
  • The Manweb Community Champion in 1997
  • The St Helen's Young Volunteer Award in 1998
  • Manweb Woman of the Year in 1999
  • Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Winner in 2000
  • The Halewood Community Award in 2000
  • The Nationwide Voluntary Endeavour Award in 2000
  • The Nationwide National Finalist Award in 2000
  • The Whitbread Volunteer Action Award in 2000
  • The Halton Community Champ in 2000/2001
  • The ICFM Volunteer Fund-raiser of the Year in 2001
  • The Rotary Award in 2001
  • The Rainhill Parish Council Good Citizenship Award in 2003, and 
  • Midlander of the year in 2003

Despite the demands of fund-raising, Michelle has also become a top-class wheelchair athlete after many years of dedicated training at Kirkby Sports Centre. In 2000, she won the Junior London Marathon and was a BT Junior Athletics Champion. In 2003, she came second in the London Marathon to Tanni Grey-Thompson, in the process raising £300,000 for Macmillan Cancer Relief. She has also finished 3rd and 4th - and 3rd in the New York Marathon.

But perhaps the greatest thrill for Michelle was when in 2002 at the age of 19, she became the youngest person to receive the MBE since the Second World War, for services to charitable fund-raising. The award was presented by Prince Charles because the Queen was away on her Jubillee Tour, but Michelle has met the Queen before on visits to Buckingham Palace. On one occasion, she was introduced to the Queen shortly after the Queen Mother had had a hip operation. Contrary to protocol which requires those granted an audience to remain silent unless spoken to, Michelle spontaneously enquired of the Queen, "By the way, how's your mother?" Apparently, this caused much amusement in the Household.

Michelle Lewis, through her many achievements accumulated at such a young age, sets a magnificent example not only to all of us on Merseyside but to the nation as a whole. Against the odds, Michelle has enjoyed extraordinary success through a combination of dogged determination, natural optimism, great natural talent, and an abiding love of people. She is right to be proud of these achievements, and we on Merseyside are very proud of her.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting Michelle Lewis, this most distinguished daughter of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.