Master of Arts
21 February 2007 - Orator: Mr John Bailey
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor:
There is a body of this University the existence of which may be unknown to many in this congregation.
If this is the case it is unfortunate, since this body, our Charter informs us, ‘shall be the governing body of the University ‘, and its very considerable powers are precisely defined in our Statutes, which state ‘…it shall set the policy of the University, in consultation with Senate on matters of academic policy, and shall ensure that the Vice-Chancellor and the University officers act to further that policy. ‘ The body to which I refer is, of course, the Council of the University of Bristol.
The membership of Council has been carefully constructed and is made up of ten members of the academic staff, including naturally the Vice-Chancellor and three Pro Vice-Chancellors, three representatives of our students and finally 19 lay-members.
In this context ‘lay’ does not have ecclesiastical significance rather that lay members may not be members of the University’s staff. These lay members bring a wide range of skills and expertise to our governance, and also very importantly an invaluable independence. I should perhaps add that they undertake the considerable amount of work involved without any remuneration.
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor, our honorary graduand this afternoon, Mrs Jane Venner-Pack, has been just such a lay member of Council for nine years, the maximum period our statutes allow. During this time she has served this University with great distinction.
Though we would have wished to welcome Jane’s husband John to this congregation today, we regret that his health is such that he cannot be with us, though he is in our thoughts. We do however have the pleasure of welcoming Jane’s younger brother David and his wife Isobel to the congregation. We also welcome Sophia, Jane’s cousin.
It is appropriate to begin this oration by describing the steps that brought Jane Venner-Pack onto our Council, and the starting point must be when Jane, a local young lady from Blagdon, came to this University to read law. Jane explains that her choice of law as a subject was because of the ‘terrific challenge’ it offered women, at a time when it was largely a male preserve with only three girls in a year group of approximately 25.
One imagines that Jane’s ‘terrific challenge’, in a largely male group, had both a serious and a social side.
On the serious side Jane excelled as a student, and in addition to her academic achievements was, in her second year, elected to be Secretary to the Law Club, and in her final year its President. Even at this stage in her life Jane Venner-Pack’s willingness to contribute and her considerable leadership ability were evident.
On the social side I cannot do better than to quote directly Jane’s own words to describe just one social event of the many she enjoyed during her time as a student. She writes, ‘I was a member of the Ski Club and we went skiing in the French Alps, to Morzine, in 1954/55. We travelled there in Jack, the Sports Director’s, vintage Rolls-Royce shooting brake. This took 12 of us – four in the front-bench seat with the driver at no.3, four in the second bench seat and four on two facing bench seats over the back two wheels. It had all our luggage on the roof, and 12 pairs of long wooden skis lashed between the bonnet and the front mudguards. It was so huge it had to go on the train deck of the ferry across the Channel rather than with the other cars. ‘
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor, the congregation may anticipate that as a reward for what must have been a very challenging, even terrifying, journey I shall report that Jane discovered that she loved skiing and became a life-long devotee of the sport.
Not at all, Jane records that though she had what she describes as ‘a wonderful time ‘ she caught Asian ‘flu, to cure which she took quantities of brandy, proved not to be very good at skiing, never mastered even the snow-plough, and never went skiing again preferring the sun to the snow.
At that time it was clear that Jane already had that remarkable ability to make friends that remains with her today. She describes the period she spent in a flat, with three friends, in her final year as ‘the time of our lives ‘, and records that 50 years on she and the flat-mates remain close friends.
After her graduation Jane decided she would not do three years of articles and become a solicitor, but would enhance her skills by learning shorthand and typing, and set out to earn her living. She was hugely successful in her career. Just 5 years after graduating she was International Public Relations Officer for Revlon, the international perfume giant, and was based in London. Her brief in this role was to create publicity for the company, to be used in forty different markets from Japan to Ireland and Australia to Sweden. During this period Jane worked to great effect with the world’s top journalists, couturiers, photographers and models organising, for example, glamorous launch parties for Revlon fragrances.
Jane told me recently of one such launch party where the water in a large ornamental fountain was replaced by the perfume being launched. The first attempt using just the perfume resulted in an unremarkable display. However by adding some glycerine to the perfume a more sparkling display was formed. Jane related how, at the end of the party, the gendarmes present grabbed every container they could lay hands on and filled them with what they believed to be unadulterated perfume. It is difficult to rid one’s mind of the image of these gendarmes rushing home to anoint their wives, partners, sweethearts with the perfume only to discover that they had become slippery, and hard to hold.
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor, many present would feel that no oration can be complete without an apparently learned quotation. So, the following thought of Clive Christian is offered today in the light of Jane’s career choice, ‘Perfume is an art form in the same genre as music and painting. It requires talent, expertise and most of all passion. ‘ Those who have heard Jane speak in Council meetings will acknowledge that Jane has all three qualities, in abundance.
Jane’s success with Revlon encouraged her to establish her own successful public relations business, which she eventually sold, to continue as a freelance consultant in marketing and publicity. In this period she acted for many well known names including Boots, Uniroyal and not least McDonalds. Jane records that she attended the English branch of Hamburger University.
Yes, there is such an institution, in Oak Brook Illinois with an 80 acre campus, run by McDonalds to train its staff. She has given no indication of how its learning and teaching methods compared with those of the University of Bristol. What we do know is that their motto is snappier than ours being, ‘Prepare to be prepared ‘, though it is not clear if this refers to the students or the hamburgers. It does have a Dean who, in her own words, believes in managing by wandering around. If my academic colleagues behind me on the platform doubt that it is a proper university, I can assure them that it has not only modular programmes, but transferable credit points to go with them.
It is widely accepted these days that any reference or testimonial, and perhaps oration, must include reference to some flaw in the individual if the strengths recorded are to be believed. In Jane’s case the flaw might be that she has the ability, without any conscious effort on her part, to cause people to reveal confidences about themselves. I cannot erase from my mind the man, built to play in the front row of the scrum, who knowing of Jane’s links with perfume revealed to Jane and others at coffee that he always wore women’s fragrances because if women liked them, and he wore them, women would like him too. Though this information falls into the category of a confidence we do not need to share, some of the graduates here today might be interested to know that it was not apparently a successful tactic.
It will be clear that the attachment Jane formed to this University during her happy and rewarding student days, her professional expertise and her way with people fitted her to be an ideal member of Council, and when invited to join Council she welcomed the opportunity to give something back to a University she believed had given her a great deal.
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor, the second objective of this oration is to provide some insight into contributions Jane has made to Council during her nine years as a member. Of these many and varied contributions two merit special mention.
Jane has contributed hugely to the work of Council in its role as highest level of the University’s appeals and complaints procedures. It is to Council, and its committees, that appeals and complaints by students and staff come when other internal remedies have been exhausted. Jane has chaired many such appeal committees to great effect. Her success in this work undoubtedly owes much to her study of law, but it owes even more to the personal qualities she brings to the process. Her reasonableness, fairness and sincerity impress all involved, even the appellants. Remarkably even those whose appeals fail are often unstinting in their praises of the way Jane has conducted the meeting.
In another area of Council’s work, recommending those who should receive honorary degrees, Jane has made a further outstanding contribution, identifying many to whom such honours should be granted. As an example Jane put forward the name of Professor Dora Akunyili, Director General of the Nigerian Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. None who were present at last year’s award to will forget the occasion, and the colourful entourage who supported the honorary graduand.
One might summarise Jane’s work for Council by recording how hard she has worked, how generously she has given of her time. This would be an accurate summary, but an inadequate one. Jane has brought outstanding personal qualities to her work with us. All who have worked with her are the better for so doing. Thankfully, though Jane’s period on Council is at an end, she will continue to contribute her expertise to the University’s work.
As a final simple example of the respect and affection in which Jane is held by all of us in this University, I am informed by a very reliable source, that prior to today’s ceremony our ceremonial officers were vying with each other for the honour of bringing Jane, this fragrant lady, onto this platform.
Mr Pro Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Jane Venner-Pack as eminently worthy of the degree of Master of Arts, honoris causa.