Master of Arts
15 July 2009 - Orator: Professor Malcolm Anderson
When John Wilkins was made redundant from British Telecom at the age of 62, he was not a man to retire quietly to his gardening, much though he does love that activity. Instead he embarked on a remarkable period of fundraising for charity. After running for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, he then worked with others to raise money by skydiving and abseiling. Prior to working as an engineer with the Post Office and BT, he had been a regular soldier with the Royal Signals which included time as a paratrooper, and he continued jumping during the rest of his service career. But the Imperial Cancer Research Fund regarded skydiving as too dangerous a fundraising method so John began to re-direct his activities towards the Wallace and Gromit Appeal for Bristol Children’s Hospital. He first persuaded William Hill to give him a £25 stake at 25 to 1 that he could not complete 3 parachute jumps in a given 24 hours. After £3,500 had been raised in this way, William Hill declined to take further bets when he requested the same for 5 jumps in 24 hours. So began his target to raise substantial sums for the Children’s Hospital. He is to be found four mornings a week, in the foyer of the Hospital, selling items for the charity that the children passing through love to have. But this is a man not content with Christmas raffles of donated children’s toys, important though these are. He encourages others to commit to a twice yearly team parachute jump and those who prefer to avoid jumping out of an aeroplane can instead undertake abseiling down tall buildings or white water rafting in Snowdonia. In 2005 he met his £100,000 target of funds and has now raised over £120,000. His only regret, after completing 26 jumps so far is that since his 70th birthday, the regulations provide that he has to jump in tandem. This is a man with energy, devotion to the cause and a daredevil spirit that he has had ever since as an eight year old he saw a commando assault course and fearlessly, and no doubt illegally, completed it on his own. He has not finished yet. In August he will abseil down a newly completed hotel in Bristol’s centre.
Madam Chancellor, this is a man who persuades others to raise money for his cause. He has zipped down wire with his grandson in Clifton Gorge and is planning that his granddaughter will abseil with him this year. He has been given an award for personal endeavour by the Nationwide Building Society which he promptly donated to his charity. Madam Chancellor, he has with him today the application forms so that anyone here who wishes to raise money by a skydive or similar for his favourite charity can volunteer to do so.
Madam Chancellor, I present to you John Wilkins as eminently worthy of the degree of Master of Arts, honoris causa.