Tribute to a public-service legend

The great and the good gather to remember the remarkable life of Lord Dearing. Phil Baty reports

July 7, 2009

Tributes were paid to Lord Ron Dearing – a “legend in his own lifetime” – in a memorial service at Westminster today.

In a thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey’s St Margaret’s Church, the Reverend Robert Wright described Lord Dearing as “a man who had tremendous influence across the whole spectrum of education”.

He added that the peer “was a legend in his own lifetime, whether we are talking about the teaching of modern foreign languages, the reform and funding of universities or the vision for Church of England schools in the 21st century”.

Lord Dearing died in February 2009, aged 78. Those in the university sector know him best for his landmark review of higher education, which was published in 1997 and triggered the introduction of tuition fees, but he also led reviews of the teaching of modern foreign languages, 16-19 education and Anglican schools.

He remained active throughout his seventies, latterly as a member of Times Higher Education’s editorial board.

Canon Wright also paid tribute to Lord Dearing’s Civil Service career and his 11-year stint in the House of Lords.

“Always down to earth, hard-working and tenacious, Ron was upheld in this remarkable life of public service by his wife Margaret and their two daughters, Erica and Rebecca,” he said.

Lord Baker, the former Conservative Education Secretary, gave the address.

He said that Lord Dearing was so humble that when he was given a chauffeur-driven car as chairman of the Post Office, he would often drop off his driver at the end of the day and pick him up again in the morning.

Lord Dearing was so proud of the Post Office, Lord Baker added, that he used to keep a pot of red paint with him in order to touch up the paintwork of any postboxes he chanced upon.

Readings at the service were given by Baroness Morris of Yardley, the former Labour Education Secretary, and Baroness D’Souza, the British scientist.

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