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“I am done, kid,” said Peter Meal (Geology 1951) to his cousin Pauline (Sociology 1952). The year was 1949, and they were enjoying their first taste of freedom at a Friday night bop. “Some other poor fella will come and dance with you.”
That “poor fella” and future husband was Philip Dransfield (PhD Chemistry 1951). The couple enjoyed 49 years of marriage and two of their sons, Graham (PhD Materials 1988) and Patrick (English & History of Art 1985), also studied at Leeds. “It’s not a coincidence we chose Leeds,” says Patrick.
Veva Porter (Chemistry 1924) was one of a small number of women to graduate from Leeds in her time. She came from Hartlepool, the daughter of a seafarer.
Years later, Veva’s daughter Jane (Medicine 1954) met Phil Mitchell (Medicine 1954) in their first year labs. She married the Yorkshireman in 1956. Their son Robert (Medicine 1982) was amongst the first to study in the Worsley Building.
In July 2017, Robert’s son Samuel followed in the footsteps of three generations before him when he received his Leeds degree – in Medicine, of course.
Leeds is so ingrained in the lives of Claire Freeston (History 2009) and new husband Anthony Zupnik (MPhys 2011) that they held their marriage blessing in the Great Hall. “It was great to celebrate our big day somewhere that’s so important to us,” says Claire, who also works at the University. “We both have many happy memories of Leeds.” The couple met during Freshers’ Week over a drink in Old Bar.
“There’s clearly some hidden magnet in the Refectory (or Old Bar!) that attracts us to Leeds,” says Mark Byford (Law 1979, LLD 2008). First Lawry Byford (Law 1956, Hon LLD 1987) studied at Leeds whilst serving as a police officer, then went on to become Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Sir Lawrence’s son, Mark says “I met my wife Hilary (English 1980) at a Valentine’s disco. She remarked she’d never seen such ridiculous dancing.” Mark became Deputy Director General at the BBC. Most recently, the Byford alumni attended the graduation of Mark and Hilary’s children, Harry (Philosophy and Linguistics 2017) and Lily (Psychology 2017).
When Adnan Intekhab (MSc Global Supply Chain Management 2016) graduated, he proudly wore a University of Leeds pin that belonged to his great-grandfather, Motaber Khan (Commerce 1932).
“I have been able to retrace my great-grandfather’s footsteps,” says Adnan. “He lived on Regent Park Terrace, Hyde Park, and I lived nearby on St Mark’s Street. It is strange to think of him being there all those years ago.”
Alex Sobel (Information Systems 1997) was born on campus to student parents. It was 1975, and Alex’s mother Ruth (PhD Russian Literature 1977) and father Leopold (PhD Viking History 1978) lived in married accommodation on Springfield Mount.
“I had a great time studying a stone’s throw from where I was born,” says Alex. “I was particularly interested in student politics.” Alex is now the MP for Leeds North West.
“There is a bird in my heart, craving for a perch on the absent tree,” writes poet Niyi Osundare (MA English 1974) about the political situation of his native Nigeria. His censorious poems and essays tackle subjects such as socio-economic problems, leadership, and the struggles faced by the poor. “I interrogate Nigeria and Africa,” he explains, “their politics, culture and life.” Seventy-year-old Niyi has had an illustrious literary career. Author of
18 books of poetry, four plays, and numerous essays, he is also Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans. Niyi received the Nigerian National Order of Merit in 2014.
The fashion career of Jigsaw Chief Executive, Peter Ruis (Politics 1989) began at 21, when he wrote to Marks & Spencer asking to become a buyer. From that first position, Peter has risen through the high street ranks and led John Lewis through the recession of 2008. Now Peter is spearheading the revival of high-street brand Jigsaw. The past four years with Peter at the helm have seen annual sales breaking £100 million for the first time and the opening of a flagship store in St James’s Emporium, London.
Apparently, Jeeja Ghosh (MA Disability Studies 2006) is “incompetent to fly alone”, which was news to her when she was removed from a flight in 2012.
Jeeja, who has cerebral palsy, successfully sued the airline in a case which brought about significant recognition of equal rights for disabled travelers in India. As Head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Jeeja works daily to challenge perceptions. “My MA at Leeds really inspired me to get involved and make a difference to disabled people’s rights”, she says. Jeeja’s life was recently explored in an award-winning documentary, “I’m Jeeja”. For Jeeja, the shooting was an enjoyable experience. “The film will go a long way in establishing the rights of the disabled”, she says.
A bulging box containing records and photographs from more than 80 years of the Leeds University Old Students’ Association (LUOSA) now sits for posterity in the University’s archive.
The items were donated by Doreen Bayley MBE (English Language 1949, Hon MA 1988), who was involved with the Association for several decades. Membership cards of some of the University’s earliest students include Elsie Ward (Geology 1919), who was the first woman Fellow of the University. “LUOSA members have always been enthusiastic,” reports archivist Jen Zwierink. “Photographs in the collection recall ice skating trips, hikes and theatre nights, amongst many other social events.” LUOSA continues to this day and welcomes former Leeds students to regular meetings and events.
“It’s all down to my great-great-grandfather,” explains historian Lucille Campey (MPhil History 1987) about why she became a leading expert on emigration to Canada. “He left Scotland for Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. I wanted to discover his story and this led me into Canadian immigration history.”
Twelve books written by Lucille have now been published in Canada about the Scottish, Irish and English who left their homes behind to settle lands across the Atlantic and the thirteenth will be published next year. Lucille, herself, crossed the Atlantic in the reverse direction in 1967 when she left her native Canada to marry her English husband. Her MPhil dealt with the medieval settlement patterns of villages in the north of England. “Acquiring the techniques needed for my dissertation provided a grounding for my later immigration research,” said Lucille. In 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Prix du Quebec in recognition of her ongoing contribution to Canadian immigration studies.
American politics have been keeping two Leeds alumni very busy. Tim Gallagher (Broadcasting 1997) was Washington DC Correspondent for Sky News until recently, whilst David Smith (English and Sociology 1996) is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Guardian. Their investigative journalism skills were honed at Leeds, as both had a stint as Editor of Leeds Student in 1994 and 1997 respectively.
“When I was political sketch writer of Leeds Student newspaper, I never dreamed that one day I would be standing in a New York hotel watching Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States,” says David. “At the White House for a Trump speech or briefing by the press secretary, I know I’ve got a front row seat for events that will still be talked about decades from now. For a journalist, it is exhilarating to be covering the biggest story in the world.”
Tim concurs. “It’s been a remarkable time to be a journalist in the USA. The election of Donald Trump confounded pundits and pollsters and will no doubt enthral students of history for generations to come. We were lucky enough to witness it first hand.”
Leading woman Molly Blincow (Economics and Mathematics 2011) is listed in the Hedge Fund Journal’s 50 Leading Women 2017. Molly joined international investment firm Murano straight after Leeds, initially as Head of Research. Within four years, Molly had risen to Director before she turned 30. Molly also sits on the steering committee of the Diversity Project, an initiative to tackle the lack of diversity in the Asset Management industry. “Our biggest challenge is trying to create an inclusive and diverse team to serve our equally diverse client base,” explains Molly. “It is an industry-wide problem that we are trying to confront head on.”
Emma Mackey (English 2016) has seen the drama Sex Education draw 40 million viewers on Netflix since she landed the lead role of sharp-tongued Maeve. Whilst starring opposite Asa Butterfield in this English language production, bilingual Emma has also recently acted opposite French cinema icon Romain Duris in the film Eiffel. Her work has made such an impression that Screen International named her a Star of Tomorrow.
Drowning in Plastic, an environmental film by documentary maker Tom Watt-Smith (Geography 2001), beat David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II to a Royal Television Society gong. In November, the BBC aired Tom’s documentary Meat: A Threat to Our Planet? “My ability to make films about our planet and its people has come, in large part, from studying at Leeds,” he says. “I suppose I turned all those qualitative research techniques into a job!”
TV producer Ish Kalia (International Studies 1996) picked up a 2019 Bafta when his Sky One show A League of Their Own won Best Comedy Entertainment Programme at a ceremony held at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Ish also series produces A League of Their Own: European Road Trip and recently produced panel show There’s Something About Movies, hosted by Alan Carr.
Idris Elba may be Luther on screen but, behind the scenes, the character is the brainchild of series creator Neil Cross (English and Theology 1994, MA English 1995). Neil’s also making Mosquito Coast with Apple and a new four-part thriller, Because the Night, for ITV. He describes the latter as “a tale of psychological suspense, of guilt and ghosts and murder.”
Kate Phillips (Theatre and Performance 2010) joined the cast of Downton Abbey as Princess Mary in the hit show’s big-screen outing. Since her first TV role as Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall, Kate has become a regular face on screen. She has appeared in War and Peace, The Crown – written by Peter Morgan – and Peaky Blinders, in which her character stirred things up by marrying Arthur Shelby.
A thirsty moment in a Leeds lecture theatre sparked the idea of a reusable bottle for people who like their water cold. With support from the Leeds enterprise scheme, James Butterfield (Management 2011) developed a water bottle that keeps its contents cold. After graduating, James launched Chilly’s reusable bottles from a market stall in London. Now his company is one of Britain’s fastest-growing private companies, according to The Sunday Times.
As an expert in food safety, Emma Bradley (Chemistry 1992, PhD Bio-organic Chemistry 1996) helps protect the UK’s food chain. Emma leads a team of 100 scientists who research food safety and food fraud. They test for biological and chemical contaminants in food before it reaches our plates. She is Head of Food Quality and Safety at Fera Science, a large organisation that aims to support and develop a sustainable food chain and protect the global community from biological and chemical risks. Along with her expertise in analytical chemistry, Emma’s job calls for a detailed knowledge of national and international food regulations.
Tony Mannix (Architectural Engineering 1984) was awarded the UK Warehousing Association’s 2019 Chairman’s Award for his lasting contribution to the logistics industry. As Chief Executive Officer of Clipper Logistics, he has seen the company build partnerships with key retail companies. “In retail, the speed of change can be daunting,” says Tony, “and retailers need an agile, multi-channel logistics partner who can help keep them ahead of the retail curve.” Also driving the Sheffield-based company’s success is Deputy Chief Financial Officer Richard Crofton (Mathematics 2000).
Through Tony’s lead, Clipper provides career opportunities to ex-offenders, people from minority groups and those living with physical and mental health challenges.
As a new mum, Shazia Mustafa (Mathematics 1997) wanted to return to work. She found it difficult to brainstorm ideas whilst meeting the needs of her daughter. “I wished for a place I could work, whilst she was cared for nearby,” she says. That’s when the idea for Third Door, the UK’s first co-working and flexible business hybrid, was born. Third Door allows members to work upstairs whilst their children are downstairs in an Ofsted nursery.
The oldest working railway in the world, the Middleton Railway in south Leeds, has a long association with the University. Back in 1969, Charles Milner (Chemical Engineering 1971) and Malcolm Phillips (Chemical Engineering 1973) were among the members of the Leeds University Railway and Transport Society who helped club together to buy a diesel engine for the railway. “The loco cost £75,” remembers Charles, whose involvement with the railway continues to this day. As Chairman of the Middleton Railway Trust, he is overseeing celebrations to mark its Diamond Jubilee. During the weekend of 20 and 21 June, historic rolling stock will hit the tracks to mark the 60th anniversary of the Trust’s first day of operation. If you have memories of the Railway Society, or any student club or society, please share them at alumni.leeds.ac.uk/society
To find out more about the celebration weekend, visit: https://www.middletonrailway.org.uk/index.php/special-events
Working for renowned London auctioneers Bonhams puts Peter Rees (English and Religious Studies 1994) in close proximity to some of the world’s finest works of art. As Director of the 227-year-old auction house, he’s been involved in particular with Victorian and 19th century European art. Bonhams has achieved a number of world auction records for artists including Archibald Thorburn, Dorothea Sharp and Stanhope Forbes.
Seen here with the Queen celebrating Sainsbury’s 150th anniversary, the Chairman of Sainsbury’s and RSA Insurance, Martin Scicluna (Accounting 1973, Hon LLD 2008) has come a long way since his student days at Leeds. Martin, recalls how, as a graduating student, Leeds gave him a career boost. “It was clear then that my firm held Leeds in very high regard and that obviously helped my employment prospects!”
This year Rachel Skinner (MSc Transport Planning and Engineering 2001) is set to become the youngest ever president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. She is currently Executive Director and UK Head of Transport at the global engineering firm WSP. Rachel also finds time to be patron of the Women in Transport network and to encourage girls to study STEM subjects.
Enterprising alumni have developed some well-known and useful technologies for consumers.
The popular money-saving website vouchercodes.co.uk was founded by Duncan Jennings (Management Studies), Max Jennings (German and Philosophy 2001) and Richard Foister (Economics 2003). In 2016, they went on to found Hoop, an app that has already had a million downloads. Families with children under 12 use Hoop to plan child-friendly activities.
Meanwhile, Trevor Hardcastle (PhD Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering 2014) and Paul Hallett (PGCert Business 2014) are modernising pet healthcare with their start-up Vet-AI. They are developing new technologies that aim to prevent and predict conditions developing in animals. Their app Joii provides symptom checkers, video consultations with vets and free nurse clinics and will provide AI in the near future.
And finally, JustPark Founder Anthony Eskinazi (Mathematics 2005) together with Lisa Eskinazi (Human Resource Management 2004) and Thomas Welton (Cert HE Mathematics 2009) have made it easier for people to park their cars. Described as an AirBnB for drivers, JustPark allows people with empty driveways to connect with motorists needing a parking space.
Natalie Haythornthwaite (Linguistics and Phonetics 2014) is a netball globetrotter. Not only did she win Commonwealth gold in 2018 with the England Roses, but in 2019 she won the Suncorp Super Netball title with the NSW Swifts in Australia and a bronze medal with England at the Netball World Cup in Liverpool. Natalie recently captained England’s Vitality Roses in the Netball Nations Cup.
“My Leeds experience served to polish my negotiating skills,” says Maltese diplomat Marisa Farrugia (PhD Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies 2002). She brings these skills to her new role as Deputy Secretary-General for Social and Civil Affairs at the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). “Often, winning a person over is more pivotal than winning an argument to maintain long-term, honest relationships.” The UfM is an intergovernmental organisation that brings together countries of the European Union and 15 countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean.
There’s something about Leeds that brings out the best in people, as demonstrated by these altruistic alumni.
Orangutans in Sumatra have an effective ally in Panut Hadisiswoyo (MA Communication Studies 2004) who is Founding Director of the Orangutan Information Center, an NGO that conserves and protects both the animals and their forest homes.
Through Campaign Bootcamp, Johnny Chatterton (Economics and Geography 2007) trains people from marginalised groups to run campaigns that challenge injustice and inequality. The Obama Foundation awarded him a fellowship and is helping him to grow the charity significantly.
At the age of 25, Joseph Walsh (Social Work 2016) gave a kidney to a stranger through the kidney-sharing scheme. When he donated his kidney to one patient, their friend or family member gave their kidney to another patient. Joseph now raises awareness about altruistic kidney donation.
Agnes Frimston (English 2008) heard a woman sobbing in a public toilet stall beside her. She soothed the woman, who had recently lost her mother, by reading aloud the poem “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall” by Kim Addonizio. When Agnes tweeted about the incident, she prompted hundreds of others to describe how strangers had supported them in tough times.