Presented by Sir Michael Bibby
Chancellor, it is with great pleasure that I present Lady Grantchester for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University.
Born in Bootle, Lady Grantchester is the elder daughter of the late Sir John Moores after whom this University is named.
Lady Grantchester, Betty, was a rather sickly child and the family moved to Formby away from the city in order to give her a healthier environment. She had an early transition into formal education after contracting bovine tuberculosis and her doctor prescribed a move to boarding school in Kent at the tender age of five.
Clearly a strong character at such an early age, she says that she loved school and at the age of nine she came home to a local day school. Her parents, looking for a more academic environment, then sent her to Cheltenham Ladies College for the rest of her formal education.
Her introduction to the College was memorable. War had broken out and the school buildings were appropriated by the government for the war effort. 800 schoolgirls were boarded out into different country houses and lessons were conducted in huts around their playing fields with the headmistress temporarily leading her school from an office in the school swimming pool.
A headstrong girl with a passion for learning, Betty loved school and particularly loved languages and history. Encouraged by her father, she asked for extra lessons in the holidays and when she heard of other people going to university she thought it might be fun to follow.
These were very different times. The thought of going to university didn’t occur to most girls and they certainly weren’t actively encouraged. Fortunately for Betty, her father, John Moores was keen for her to try for a place at University.
After taking the entrance exams, she won a place at Cambridge where she began by studying history at Newnham College. Although a serious girl and clearly bright, a career was never really mapped out and there were very few roles for women.
She was, however, and appropriately for the graduates here today, drawn to the legal profession and switched to study law in the hopes of becoming a barrister – after a year however, she realised that it wasn’t to be her calling.
It was at Cambridge that she was to meet her husband Kenneth Suenson-Taylor, the second Baron Grantchester. After marriage to Kenneth in 1947 she settled down to raise her family – which currently includes six children, 18 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren with another two on the way.
And despite demands of bringing up such a large family, Betty devoted a considerable amount of time to charity work – anything ranging from washing dishes at local events she had organised to chairing large national Charitable Trusts. She also took a personal interest in students following in her footsteps by supporting the Lucy Cavendish College at Cambridge which provides places for mature women students.
Back on Merseyside her father was continuing to build his business with the three strands of what was to become the Littlewoods empire: the mail order company, the football pools and the retail stores. And Betty played a critical role in the business after the birth of her last child becoming a director of the company, a role she held for 20 years.
She remembers her father with great affection, he was a lovely man, she says, very busy with his business but always ready to spend time encouraging his own family and others.
She and her sister and brothers inherited from their father a sense of purpose and responsibility. She remembers that her father always looked for ways to help people transform their lives, not just financially but by taking a personal interest and supporting people individually with their ambitions.
The Moores family has become one of the great dynasties of our time and when this University was named after John Moores in 1992, the whole family were thrilled that his name would live on, enshrined within the values and ethos of the university – to provide opportunity for talented students to aspire, and through the University, they all maintain a deep connection with the city of Liverpool.
Now in her 90th year, Betty is trying to slow down a little. She is still pivotal to the John Moores Painting prize, the prestigious competition for contemporary art, and last November, she joined our Chancellor and hundreds of LJMU students for a University event in London.
She says she loved meeting the students – and judging by the number of photographs shared of her on social media after the event, they loved meeting her. I should add that Lady Grantchester is not herself active on social media!
Lady Grantchester has been an enormously positive and influential figure. Drawing upon her father as a role model, she has instilled a great sense of social responsibility in her own family. I know that they are enormously proud of her, as indeed, are we.
Thus it is with great personal pleasure that I present Betty, Lady Grantchester, this most distinguished daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour as Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.