Pioneering St Albans women awarded Honorary Doctorates at St Albans Cathedral
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:55 13 September 2019
Two pioneering St Albans women have been awarded Honorary Doctorates from the University of Hertfordshire.
Dame Mary Richardson and Funke Abimbola were celebrated in ceremonies at St Albans Cathedral for their extraordinary contributions in their respective fields.
Funke was honoured for her work in corporate and social diversity and Dame Mary for her work in education.
Beginning her career as a corporate lawyer in London 19 years ago and as a black woman of Nigerian descent, Funke came across both racism and gender discrimination.
She was not deterred, however, and thanks to her determination, she managed to achieve places in a number of law firms, including her first role at Wembley PLC.
In 2012, she joined Roche UK in Welwyn Garden City as managing counsel and later became the most senior black solicitor within the company.
She went on to be general counsel at Roche UK and is currently general counsel at Cycle Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge.
Funke has managed to support her full-time career as a senior lawyer while also voluntarily working towards the promotion of diversity in the workplace.
Her many accolades include a Point of Light given by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2016 and an MBE in 2017 for her services to diversity in the legal profession and to young people.
The University of Hertfordshire's honorary doctorate is her next award.
Funke said: "I am deeply humbled by this incredible recognition and it is a real privilege. My voluntary work in improving diversity within the legal profession is far from easy and has required a tremendous amount of resilience and personal sacrifice."
Dame Mary, formally chief executive of HSBC Global Education Trust, has had an extensive and successful career in education and worked with young people for most of her life.
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She graduated and qualified at the University of Liverpool before training as an officer in the Women's Royal Army Corps.
First teaching at St Adrian's Catholic Primary School and now-Marlborough Science Academy in St Albans, Dame Mary later took the role as headteacher of a secondary school in an under-privileged area of Brent from 1985 to 1999.
She revolutionised the school by implementing IT and music facilities and under her leadership, the languages department was awarded specialist status.
Her reforms as headteacher saw a 53 per cent increase, from eight per cent to 61 per cent, in the number of students achieving five or more GCSEs at A* to C.
By 1999, multiple pupils were accepted to Oxbridge each year.
Dame Mary saw continued success with her subsequent move to HSBC Global Education Trust as the chief executive.
She ran and established the trust that worked to support children living on the streets, in orphanages and in care in the UK and across the world.
Since then she has continued her career as a governor in three schools and a university, and is a found ambassador of Teach First, a charity aiming to improve education in young people across England and Wales.
She was awarded her DBE in 1999 for her services to education.
Funke and Dame Mary have joined over 17,000 people celebrating the 2019 graduation, including friends and family.
Secretary and registrar at the University of Hertfordshire, Sue Grant, said: "Our graduation ceremonies are a highlight of the academic calendar for students and staff alike, as we have the opportunity to celebrate the dedication, hard work and well-deserved achievements of our students.
"With over 96 per cent of our students employed or in further study within the first six months of graduation, we hope that our 2019 graduates go on to enjoy great success in the next stage of their lives.
"We wish them all the very best and look forward to keeping in touch as their careers develop and flourish."
The University of Hertfordshire also awarded Honorary Doctorates to other extraordinary people from around the country, including Professor William Webb, Firoz Rasul, Gordon Morrison, Professor John Pickett, Professor David Docherty and Rebecca Hilsenrath.