Gary is an inspirational alumnus of the Liverpool Polytechnic. Using his background and expertise in computing, teaching and business development, he is truly one of Liverpool’s leading citizens, determined to make positive changes for the people of the city. From his work as a councillor, as the former Lord Mayor, and now as a diversity and equality champion, and ‘pay it forward’ evangelist and major fundraiser, he continues to help people, day in and day out, to reach their potential.
But how is someone like Gary motivated to give back to others and to strive for a legacy that will inevitably be described as wrapped in kindness, selflessness and gratitude? It comes from tough experiences in his early life growing up in Scotland and from the support of those who could see that despite the challenging background he had come from, he could and would go on to achieve.
“From an early age, I suffered significant childhood trauma. I was in care for most of those years. Sadly, I had been programmed to believe I would never succeed. In fact, struggling at a variety of primary schools and at home, they reminded me I ‘would never amount to anything’.
“If there had been an option for me to sit an eleven-plus examination, I believe I would have most likely sat dejected at the bottom of the results table. However, with no exams sat, I sailed into Tynecastle High School, a comprehensive secondary school in Edinburgh. I did well, but not well enough to leave school to attend university as planned.
“I had long dreamed that I would study architecture. Instead, I joined the Scottish Office, the Civil Service, with a period in London’s Whitehall, book ended with roles in Edinburgh. In London, I had found my soulmate, Steve. As a result, I later moved from Edinburgh to Liverpool for a fresh start. He encouraged me to join him as he started his new role in Bootle. I also wanted to study at Liverpool Polytechnic and to experience the city’s glorious music, sports, and friendly, hardworking people.”
In 1983, Gary pursued a BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in computer studies, and it was a fortunate coincidence that the polytechnic was renowned for delivering one of the best courses in computing studies in the UK.
Gary would become the first person in his family to complete studies at university, and his time as a student certainly offered him a transformational experience which would further expand not just his skills, but his confidence to go on and explore a range of professional opportunities - in sales, marketing, public speaking, international relations, growing successful businesses and in politics. It perhaps also launched a desire to give back to others and to ensure philanthropy would play a key role in his life.
“My time at Liverpool Polytechnic helped me understand I can succeed and that I can amount to something. It taught me that anyone can achieve with the right support, just like I did.”
– Gary Millar
“Once I graduated, I designed and wrote computer and web applications. Plus, I taught people how to use software and systems, including writing several teaching and learning materials. I’ve helped over 25,000 business owners grow through guidance, access to specialist help, acquisition, investment, and mentoring.”
In 2015, Gary co-founded Liverpool’s highly successful and nationally acclaimed Business and Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) and its Entrepreneur in Residence Business Clinic at Liverpool’s Central Library. That clinic is now recognised as one of the UK’s most successful volunteer-led business guidance projects, with over 40 volunteer specialist mentors helping Gary guide over 4,000 pre-start, start-up and high growth businesses.
Alongside helping others in business, Gary has founded, created and designed award-winning spaces including bars, a hotel, event venues, training facilities, shared workspaces and incubation centres, perhaps a nod back to those past dreams of becoming an architect!
Having achieved business success, Gary also explored a career in politics for over 14 years. He was determined to address the needs of his fellow citizens not just in the business sector and to promote a city he loves, but also to make a difference in the community he represented. Elected to Liverpool City Council in 2008, he also held positions of Cabinet Member for Culture and Enterprise and later for Employment and Skills. Plus, he became Liverpool’s Lord Mayor from 2013 to 2014 and later held the positions of Assistant Mayor and Deputy Mayor. He retired as a local politician in 2021.
The first Lord Mayor in the country to be in a civil partnership, his term of office was remarkable, emphasising the themes of diversity and equality and raising vital funds for charitable causes including homelessness and cancer charities, vulnerable children and those with special educational needs. He also worked tirelessly to promote the city as a safe and tolerant place for LGBTQI+ people. Gary chose the Michael Causer Foundation as one of his charities, which was set up in memory of the gay Liverpool teenager who was killed in 2008.
“My standout moments over the past four decades of finding my home in Liverpool are many. One in particular was becoming Lord Mayor and ‘First Citizen’ of Liverpool and therefore having the privilege of representing this city with my partner and Consort at almost 1,600 events and using the opportunity over 12 months to raise almost £400,000 for charity.”
Gary’s role in politics wasn’t just ring-fenced to Liverpool, as he is a pioneering and effective international relationship lead, having helped attract over 200 overseas delegations to the Liverpool City Region and to the UK.
“However, I didn’t do this alone, and our outstanding teamwork has helped attract at least £200 million in direct investment in health, education, research, business, and sport. I have led over 20 delegations overseas, representing Liverpool and the UK in the US, China, Portugal, South Korea and Indonesia.” He currently holds the roles of voluntary Chair and President at the Liverpool China Partnership, as well as Honorary President at the Liverpool Commonwealth Association.
“Even though I retired from local politics in 2021, I still engage in international diplomacy and meet with visiting ambassadors, government officials, and city leaders. In semi-retirement, my plans include continuing to support our communities and charities, the public, private and academic sectors, plus speak at and host events, write, take photographs, and continue to be a mentor.”
There are almost too many projects, partnerships and philanthropic endeavours to list everything that Gary has created, chaired and collaborated on. Music producer, photographer, local radio ‘Gadget Guru’ and international motorsport festival organiser are among the other things that Gary includes in his accomplishments.
He is certainly an incredible man and something that the university recognised in 2016 when bestowing the role of honorary fellow on him, in acknowledgement of his outstanding achievements.
Gary has even found time to be a visiting lecturer at all three of Liverpool’s universities, and most recently helped even more LJMU students of the future by making a donation to the university in memory of his late brother, Leslie. So where next for Gary?
“Today, my overriding mantra is to ‘pay it forward’. That also means I have included none of the aforementioned positives to receive your applause or praise. But perhaps to emphasise that with integrity, support and opportunities, we can achieve success, hope, humility, humanity, strength of character, and resourcefulness without self-gain.
“Leslie was born affected by the Thalidomide drug and as a result could not speak or hear. He spent most of his life in care, not just during his childhood like me, but through until he died in January 2022. I inherited his estate. So, in his name, I am putting his money to good use by helping others, like us, from a care experienced background. However, in his name, together with Steve, we are also helping disabled children, adults recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, and the homeless. With our funds, together with my passion to pay it forward, we can help others at LJMU and elsewhere to dream, achieve, and succeed. I recognise LJMU changed me and made me. Attending this 200-year-old institution made a significant impact on my life. In fact, it is not hyperbole to say it helped save my life. So, I ask what actions can I now take to make a difference in other people’s lives and perhaps collectively we may save yet more lives through our enhanced support?”
LJMU provides dedicated support for care experienced and estranged students, ensuring that no one is excluded from higher education because of their upbringing, and that people just like Gary have the opportunity to reach their true potential in life.
“Well, in summary, they may have once said, ‘You will never amount to anything Gary’, but I believe I may have proved them wrong. I am grateful to my husband Steve, the City of Liverpool, friends, colleagues, Liverpool John Moores University, and my late Thalidomide surviving brother Leslie for their contributions. I take this opportunity to thank them all.
“Liverpool welcomed me with open arms and thankfully brought me some success, support, health and happiness. As they say, the rest is history.” Gary is soon set to publish a book Silent Victims on the impact of Thalidomide on his wider family. They think his book will be the first to discuss the effects of Thalidomide on the wider family.
However, he adds, “It is also a story of turning despair into hope - and LJMU played a key role in that.”