Sir Bert Massie CBE DL (1949 – 2017)
Bert was the son of Herbert Massie, a porter and casual worker in Liverpool docks, and his wife, Lucy, who had part-time jobs including school cleaner and factory hand on the Jacob’s biscuit production line. They had seven other children.
Bert was struck by polio at three months old – his grandmother flagged down a passing lorry to take him to hospital – and he spent the next five years at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, and the following six at a children’s “rest school of recovery”, Greenbank Lane, where he would recall parents were permitted to visit every other Sunday.
After four further years at a special school, Sandfield Park, Massie left without qualifications but skills enough to obtain office work. While holding down jobs as a bookkeeper and credit controller, he persuaded local nuns to tutor him to do his O-levels. He attended Hereward College in Coventry to get the A-levels needed to study social studies at Liverpool Polytechnic, now LJMU, and then to obtain a postgraduate certificate in social work at Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University.
Having become active in the disability movement through the Liverpool Association of Disabled People, Massie moved to London to join Radar (the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) in 1978, rising through the organisation and serving as chief executive from 1990 to 1999. Throughout his adult life, Sir Bert was a leading campaigner for equality and a champion of human rights for disabled people. He was instrumental in ensuring that Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and during his tenure as the first Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (2000-2007), he helped ensure that the rights of disabled people were strengthened and enshrined in law. He was also a founding Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, established in 2007. Radar became part of Disability Rights UK in 2012.
A leading thinker on social policies affecting disabled people, he served on numerous statutory committees, and advised ministers on appropriate policies; he was Deputy Chairman of the National Disability Council and a member of the Disability Rights Task Force; a member of the Independent Commission on Social Justice and a Trustee of a numerous organisations including Community Service Volunteers, the Institute of Employment Studies, the Pensions Policy Institute and a number of disability charities. He also served on the board of European Disability Forum and represented Europe on the world-wide Executive Committee of Rehabilitation International.
Amongst his numerous publications, Sir Bert authored Seat Belts and Disabled People, The Employer's Guide to Disabled People, and Social Justice and Disabled People.
“Sir Bert was a wonderful member of our extended family, and a great ambassador for the university. As a dedicated member of our governing body, he took his role as a critical friend seriously, he spoke eloquently on behalf of our students and our staff and was a true role model to so many of us. He will be remembered fondly for his immense contribution to the university and for his genuine interest in so many individual projects - wherever Bert appeared, he was immediately surrounded by friends and of course, by laughter.”
– Former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Weatherill, on Bert’s death in 2017
Eventually returning to Liverpool, Massie drew great pleasure in the last decade of his life from his continued involvement with LJMU. He joined LJMU’s Board of Governors as an Independent Member on 1 February 2008, serving as Chair of Audit Committee, and as a member of the Remuneration and Nominations Committees and Chairs Group.
His undiminished commitment to promoting equality for all was reflected in his attendance at LJMU’s Keeping Race Equality on the Agenda event in April 2017, marking the launch of university’s Race Charter. He also led the debate on the future of the 2010 Equality Act at LJMU in November 2015, speaking alongside leading equality experts from across the UK.
Just prior to his death in 2017 he attended a 40th anniversary reunion of social studies students who had graduated with him in 1977.
Sir Bert was appointed an OBE in 1984, a CBE in 2000 and knighted in 2007. He was awarded an LJMU Honorary Fellowship in 2002 for services to equality and promoting the rights of disabled people.
LJMU now has a scholarship in Sir Bert’s name, awarded to an outstanding disabled student who has campaigned or championed inclusion in some way.
You can find out more about the life of Sir Bert Massie in his autobiography, A Life Without Limits, released in 2019 two years after his death from cancer. The book was launched at Liverpool Town Hall, telling the story of Sir Bert’s life in Liverpool, the prejudice he faced due to his disability and his journey as a disability rights activist.