Image of the graduation procession inside the Liverpool Cathedral

Ronald Muirhead

Oration

Presented by: Roger Phillips

Honourable Chancellor, I present Ronald Muirhead for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University.

A research scientist by profession, Ronald Muirhead was used to the closed environment of his laboratory before retirement and what could have been a quiet scholarly life surrounded by his beloved books. Instead, and in support of his wife, he embarked upon a public life with a schedule that would put many to shame and has done so with such great verve and enthusiasm that he deserves the gratitude of not only the city but the county of Merseyside and it is our great privilege to be able to honour him so publicly today.

Born in Glasgow 80 years ago, Ronald grew up in a normal household where his father and brother were tradespeople – glaziers by profession. Rather than follow in their footsteps, Ronald opted for the academic life and found himself at Aberdeen University pursuing a medical degree. 

During his first years at university he landed an internship at a hospital in Smethwick, Birmingham where he was to encounter a young woman pursuing her career as a midwife.

That woman was Lorna Fox, who became Mrs Muirhead and is now known affectionately just as Dame Lorna – more of which later.

Ronald switched from a medical degree to the more analytical pursuit of biochemistry preferring the life of a research scientist to a life on the ward, and it was this that brought the family to Liverpool over 50 years ago when Ronald was appointed as a research biochemist at the cardiothoracic centre that is now Broadgreen.
A long and dedicated life as a scientist followed whilst he and Lorna brought up their two children, James, an accountant and Elizabeth, a veterinary nurse. They dedicated themselves to renovating their astonishing Victorian family home in South Liverpool, with Lorna working part time as a midwife and Ronald becoming a consultant biochemist and a member of the Philharmonic choir. 

It is perhaps indicative of their appreciation of his wild side that on his 70th birthday, the children arranged for their quiet and capable father to have windsurfing lessons – a hobby he pursued with enthusiasm until he was forced to give up last year when he developed a hip problem.

As Ronald retired he and Lorna embarked upon a life in public. In 1997, Lorna was elected as the President of the Royal College of Midwives, it was a big public role with a wide remit and responsibility, travelling throughout the UK and abroad. 

With Ronald’s unstinting support Lorna was able to continue working as a clinical midwife and served two terms as the President, during which time she was created a Dame for her services to midwifery and also received a Fellowship from this University.

Life was hectic for the pair of them during her eight year period as President and they only paused for a couple of years before they were approached for a further significant and high profile public role – and this one was based at home.

The Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside is the Queen’s representative in the County. It is one of the biggest civic roles in a city, representing the Queen for the military and the judiciary – connecting the monarchy to the people. The Lord Lieutenant is personally selected by the Queen and has a direct line to Buckingham Palace on behalf of the county.

When the letter of invitation landed in their Aigburth home, this modest working couple took one look at each other and knew it was a chance in a lifetime as well as a real privilege – they accepted without hesitation.
If they thought their lives had been frantic before, this took things to a totally different level. Bearing in mind that in other counties it is usually the ‘great and the good’ that achieve a position of Lord Lieutenant, Ronald and Lorna are a normal working couple, with no retinue, no household staff and no great office of state – and yet they have wholeheartedly entered into this world where they average 10 major events a week, organise all of the Royal visits to the county and play host to visiting dignitaries in the home they rebuilt themselves. 

They have always viewed this public commitment as a joint venture – and they have loved every minute of it. Having spent all of their professional lives in the NHS they now meet people from all walks of life and they don’t just appear at the official events, they attend the life of the county in its fullest sense. And representing Her Majesty at the quiet moments such as military funerals is as important as the big events that define the city.

In a couple of years time Dame Lorna will step down from the role – we are very fortunate to have such a gregarious Lord Lieutenant, but we are also very privileged to have Ronald by her side; the calm at the eye of the storm and the very model of a modest academic thrust into the public domain, quite unaware of how much impact he has and how equally impressive he is for the Lord Lieutenancy.

Thus it is with great personal pleasure that I present Ronald Muirhead, this most distinguished adopted son of our city for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.