Richard Appleby Lalonde

Master of Arts

26 February 2003 - Orator: Professor Gordan Stirrat

Mr Vice-Chancellor,

It is with the greatest pleasure that I present to you this afternoon Richard Lalonde who, with his considerable business acumen and expertise as a chartered surveyor, has provided invaluable advice to this University over many years as a member of Council and its Buildings Committee.  To illustrate the importance of these roles can I suggest that we look around us?

We are gathered in what has been described as “The most striking building erected in Bristol in the 20th century”. At the official opening by King George V on 9 June 1925, the King said ‘The New Buildings of Bristol University are a conspicuous and beautiful landmark in this ancient city, and serve not only to keep fresh the remembrance of a great gift, but also to remind the friends of the University of their obligation to ensure that this gift, so nobly bestowed, be worthily used for the advancement of learning’“.

A photograph taken in Royal Fort Gardens that year entitled ‘the University 1925 – all of it!’ shows a total number of staff and students of about 400. Seventy-eight years later we have 10,000 undergraduates, nearly 3,500 postgraduates, a staff of over 5,000, an annual financial turnover of about £220 million, and buildings and estate in the city worth over £350 million. Indeed, Mr Vice-Chancellor, as you have recently noted in your speech to The Bristol Society in September 2002, the University of Bristol is now the biggest single independent employer in the city and generates £350 million per annum for Bristol as well as nearly 10,000 jobs.

Despite the massive changes that this exemplifies, undreamt of by our founding fathers in 1909, I wish to suggest that the sentiments expressed by the King on 9 June 1925 still pertain. Our buildings must, first, be “worthily used for the advancement of learning” - surely the primary function of any university that aspires to academic excellence such as we do. Second, they are part of our, often gifted, inheritance that we, in turn, hold in trust for our successors. Third, they are evidence of the mutually beneficial strong links between the city, its business community and the University. Fourth, they are conspicuous physical landmarks that proclaim ‘this is the University of Bristol’ with all that entails for our city and nation. 

It is vital not only that these obligations be recognised and honoured but that appropriate opportunities be taken for further growth. To achieve these objectives we require expertise beyond that normally found within the academic community. This is where lay members of Council play a key role in, perhaps, keeping our feet on the ground when our heads are in the clouds. In the context of our estate, no one exemplifies this better than Richard Lalonde, Dick to his friends. Born in Weston-super-mare on 7 October 1930, he was educated at Bream House School then Clifton College. In 1949 he went to Reddie School in New Jersey as an English Speaking Union exchange student. In 1950 Dick began his National Service and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers. He has fond memories of his time with the Field Engineers Regiment in Elgin, Scotland and particularly that he played on the wing when they became Scottish Command rugby champions. On his discharge from the army in 1951 Dick was articled to Wooley and Wallis, Auctioneers and Valuers, in Salisbury. His father advised him “don’t buy a car, travel by public transport instead”. The first thing he did was to spend £25 on an old banger from a dodgy dealer! On driving it away he discovered, at the top of a hill, that it had no brakes and had to run into a tree in order to stop. No injuries were sustained and the dealer bought back the wreck for £5! Although I find it difficult to believe, I am told on good authority that ‘he tended to be wild on occasions’. One of these involved creeping up behind a man in a pub sporting a large RAF style handlebar moustache and clipping off one side of it! On another he drove his beloved open Morris Minor across the Downs in flagrant contravention of the byelaws prohibiting such behaviour. However, he was soon brought to heel because it was in Salisbury that he met Brenda Davies and they were married on 14 December 1957.

Dick qualified as a Chartered Auctioneer in 1954 and moved back to Bristol to train with J.P. Sturge as a Chartered Surveyor. In 1957 he joined the family firm of Lalonde Bros and Parham, Removal Contractors and Estate Agents. Together with John Pool, another esteemed honorary graduate of this university, he formed a new commercial department. Together they built this up to be the strongest and most successful commercial agency firm in the Southwest. His business philosophy was, “get good people and keep them going”.

Dick was appointed as a Member of Council of this University in 1989 and was quickly co-opted on to the Buildings Committee. His quiet commitment to these roles in terms of time and energy was extraordinary. Until his arrival on the Committee no chartered surveyor had been involved in the management of our substantial and valuable estate or in the complicated property negotiations with the private sector. There were several factors that made his specialised input absolutely invaluable on, for example, design of new buildings, the need for external valuations, tactics for property negotiations and property law.  Among them were the enormous implications for both the residential and academic estate of the marked expansion in student numbers; and the cessation of central funding of approved university buildings by the University Grants Committee (now the Higher Education Funding Council for England). The need to find funds internally also meant that the University was able to develop new buildings of architectural quality and high specification unconstrained by the influence of faceless civil servants whose main function was to drive down costs. A good example is the Merchant Venturers Building and ‘University Gate’ for the Faculty of Engineering. Around the time of his appointment to Council in 1989, the University entered into a partnership with the Universities of Bath and of the West of England within the ‘Science Research Foundation’ to set up an Academic Innovations Centre in a Science Park at Emersons’ Green in North Bristol. Dick became a director of ‘Emersons’ Innovations’ and I trust he will forgive me for saying that I sense his great frustration that, although encouraging reports appear from time to time, no start has yet been made on the ground.   

Away from bricks and mortar, another major contribution to the work of the University has been Dick’s involvement with the local charity ‘Bristol Research into Alzheimers and Care of the Elderly’ (BRACE) formed to support Professor Gordon Wilcock’s research at Frenchay Hospital. He was chairman from 1991 to 1996 and contributed greatly to this Charity’s success in raising several million pounds to support its programme of research. We are already enjoying the fruit of that success though some of us, like your orator are, Mr Vice-Chancellor, closer to requiring it than others!

Nor do matters end there. From 1976 to 1998 Dick was a Justice of the Peace and in 1997 he became High Sheriff of Bristol. He has, for many years, been closely involved with such other charitable activities in the city as the Anchor, Colston and Gloucestershire Societies. To his family and friends he may be proud and, sometimes, stubborn but he is also gracious, generous and loyal, with a wicked sense of humour. His wife, Brenda, daughter, Louise and two sons, Simon and Joe, are central to his life. In the 1970s the family took less privileged boys with them on holiday to Devon. Dick describes the boys as ‘horrendous and wild’ but it was the lifeline that one of them, Tony, needed and he is now married with four children and a building business. He still keeps in touch and freely recognises the difference Brenda and Dick made to his life. In 1977 they purchased a house for homeless men in St Werburgh’s. As Brenda says “It seemed like a good idea at the time” but, unfortunately, it was not a success. Fights broke out and the house was trashed. In July 1989 they set up the Lalonde Family Trust that has provided just under £250,000 to Bristol projects and charities.

So, Mr Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Richard Appleby Lalonde, chartered surveyor, businessman, philanthropist and unstinting friend of this University, as eminently worthy of the degree of Master of Arts honoris causa. 

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