INTERNATIONAL figures in human rights, sociology, music and natural burials have received honorary degrees.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Higgins presented them to prominent figures in their fields who have links with Durham University, in ceremonies at Durham Cathedral.
Yesterday, Baroness Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator at the United Nations, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law.
She said: “It is a great privilege to be honoured by Durham University, a university with a long and proud history where there is a strong commitment to the principles of social justice.”
Baroness Amos was nominated by Professor Lena Dominelli, from the university’s School of Applied Social Sciences, who first met her when they were both community development workers in the West Midlands in the early 1980s.
“Valerie is an outstanding individual who has contributed to the development of cohesive societies,” said Professor Dominelli. “Championing human rights and social justice for women and minority ethnic groups in the UK and across the world.
“She has worked her way to the top from humble beginnings, and provides an inspirational role model for staff and students affiliated to Durham University.”
Ken West, the pioneer of natural burials, received an honorary Master of Arts.
Mr West started his career in the funeral industry as a 15-year-old horticultural trainee.
He become Bereavement Services Manager for Carlisle in the late 1980s and established the world’s first green burial service in 1993.
His lead has since been followed in North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Mr West was nominated by Professor Douglas Davies, who said: “It is rare for a single individual to be hugely catalytic of a social trend that emerges distinct from new social policies forged by national or local government.
“He has, in effect, engendered a new British ‘way of death’, that has spread to over 200 sites.”
Musician Graham Johnson received an honorary Doctor of Music.
A pianist and accompanist, he has performed with the world’s foremost vocalists to critical acclaim.
His is noted for his commercial recordings of lieder – romantic poems set to music.
He said: “I am delighted to be honoured with a doctorate by a university with such an august musical tradition.
“As a performer who attended a conservatoire in his youth, rather than a university, I can think of no better centre of learning with which to be to be associated than Durham.”
Professor Huw Beynon, who will today be awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters, is a distinguished industrial sociologist of international repute.
He joined Durham University in 1977 and researched mining trade unions and communities, which led to his involvement in contesting the Government’s policy of pit closures.
“The 12 years I spent in Durham were among the most memorable of my life,” he said.
“Obviously it is a great honour to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the university.
“It is also very significant for me that the university has recognised the importance of academics working closely with local people and communities, particularly during these times of great upheavals and change.”