Green College 40th Anniversary

Green Templeton celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of Green College in September 2019. A memorable evening reception on Friday 20 September was followed by a series of talks on the history and evolution of college on Sunday 22 September.

History and evolution of Green College and Green Templeton College

Despite the early start (9:30 for the first talk) on a Sunday morning, there was an audience of about 80 people in the EP Abraham Lecture Theatre. The atmosphere was full of warmth, laughter and fellowship, with occasional sounds of appreciation as old photographs were shown in some of the brief (10 minute) presentations. To ensure that the busy programme was on time as nearly as possible, the traffic lights (aka the Robert Turner timer) were invoked, and speakers were certainly conscious of their presence!

Chair: John Sear

John Sear chaired the whole symposium, beginning with some of the history of Green College, as well as talking a bit about his involvement with Green College as a near-founding member (being appointed to the Governing Body in late 1981). He showed a slide of the original Governing Body (1979).

Speaker: Clive Hahn

Clive Hahn described the early days when the first proposal for a college (centred around the Observatory) was engendered by Sir Richard Doll, who proposed the name of Radcliffe College. Clive’s talk included some very enjoyable descriptions of the fellows elect who included clinical readers, lecturers and administrators, and a social scientist, Juliet Cheetham, the first female fellow. He described how Richard Doll formed various College committees, all of which he chaired, including the Governing Body Elect whose meetings occurred in the Radcliffe Board Room. Right from the start it was effectively compulsory for Governing Body members to attend the subsequent dinner at St Antony’s College, where the Common Room Steward was Gerald Chambers (later to become the Domestic Bursar of Green College).

The Governing Body Fellows Elect sacrificed a great deal of personal time in order to establish the new college, as did their wives/partners who became fully involved with all the developments. Joan Doll invested a lot of time in the refurbishment of the college. Clive emphasised the importance to individuals of a College Fellowship in the 1970s and 80s, when such a position was not easily accessible.

Richard Doll raised £250,000 for a new building, a sum which was considerably enhanced by Drs Cecil and Ida Green. Their donation was used to restore the Observatory to its original glory after its deterioration during the period when it was used as an experimental laboratory.

Speaker: Richard Peto

Richard Peto talked about his many years of research collaboration with Richard Doll. In particular he focused on the 1994 description by Richard Doll of the global relevance of smoking cessation:

‘Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not. Before the twentieth century, 70 years used to be regarded as humanity’s allotted span of life and only about one in five lived to such an age. Nowadays, however, for non-smokers in Western countries, the situation is reversed; only about one in five will die before 70 and the non-smoker death rates are still decreasing, offering the promise, at least in developed countries, of a world where death before 70 is uncommon. But, for this promise to be properly realised, ways must be found to limit the vast damage now being done by tobacco and to bring home, not only to the many millions of people in developed countries but also to the far larger populations elsewhere, the extent to which those who continue to smoke are shortening their expectation of life by so doing.

Speaker: Gerald Myatt

Gerald Myatt covered the Walton Years and described the search for a successor to replace Richard Doll. Having been approached by Trevor Hughes in 1981 at a conference in Japan, Sir John Walton was eventually appointed as Warden in 1983. Student numbers doubled during the 1980s and clearly more student accommodation was needed. Gerald talked of the contentious issue surrounding the Lodge building on the eastern corner of the site. A proposal to demolish this building was opposed by the Oxford Victorian Society: however, Green College appealed the Council’s rejection of the plans for the essential building programme. The appeal succeeded, and the building was demolished and replaced in the 1980s with the Walton Building which now houses the library, the EP Abraham Lecture Theatre and student accommodation.

Speaker: Jeffery Burley (given on Jeff’s behalf by John Sear)

Jeffery Burley. In January 1981 Richard Doll asked me to become a Fellow of Green College. Having been a University Lecturer in the Forestry Institute with no college connection for several years I jumped at the chance. I was interviewed by Richard Doll, Trevor Hughes, Clive Hahn and Terence Ryan. In exchange for the benefits I would receive as a fellow, Richard suggested that perhaps I could attract a student to the college.

He thought some diversity in the college would be good. Once I’d brought in ten forestry students he decided that was enough! The start of diversity in the College began the interdisciplinary expansion that has proved so beneficial to Fellows, students and visitors alike.

As Vice Warden one of my tasks was to locate potential Wardens to replace John Walton and Crispin Tickell. During his tenure, Crispin appointed me as secretary of a committee to develop College policy. A Governing Body decision was to establish research centres within the college: for example, the Green College Centre for Environment and Development, comprising three former members of the Oxford Forestry Institute. Crispin also had his own research group.

I inherited from Terence Ryan the role of organiser for the College’s annual charity auction. Fellows donated items (china, books, holiday home stays etc.) and students made promises (dog-walking, car-washing, language tutorials etc.). Everyone had a jolly time, and most years we raised about £1,000.

Much of the work of the Governing Body and College Officers from 1980 to 1990 focused on broadening college activities and updating its estate, particularly 13 Norham Gardens and the purchase of student housing in St Margaret’s Road. We sold 10 Bradmore Road and acquired new houses in Observatory Street for married students with families.

Relations between fellows and students were enhanced by the annual cricket match and bar games tournament. Even in retirement, Richard Doll and John Walton were first class at cricket. Jeff Aronson and I cleaned up pretty well at darts, table tennis and snooker. The recent system of College Advisers to students, which includes Emeritus and Research Fellows, has added to the academic value of the College.

Speaker: Laurence Leaver

Laurence Leaver talked about his time as a clinical student, starting in 1988 when his medical tutors included Professor David Weatherall (his picture is on the first page of the 1988 medical school prospectus) who was then in active clinical practice, including being on call, as well as being an eminent researcher, teacher and mentor. Laurence discussed how some things have changed (especially the computer room and the Walton Building) and others stayed the same (including student dinners and the Ball). He also described how supportive the college had been after he had a serious leg injury in 1990, while riding a motorbike. He could not walk normally for about a year and yet managed to complete his course on time. He related what had happened to many of the other students in his cohort, highlighting their successes and how little they had aged (apart from one or two bald patches!). He was also pleased to see some more recent alumni in the audience who, despite having to suffer his teaching, have been very successful too. Lastly he praised the many staff who have helped to make the college so friendly and efficient over the decades.

Speaker: Crispin Tickell

Crispin Tickell was appointed as Warden of Green College in 1990. Following his creation of the Green College Centre for Policy and Understanding, his primary aim was to establish a forum where the political, environmental, scientific, industrial, business, financial and media worlds could meet the academic world. This was to enable them all to obtain an insight into each other’s thinking, particularly to bridge the gap between separate disciplines and to promote understanding between them. This led to work on issues such as climate change and discussion on the importance of the reorientation of society to help cope with these issues. Institutional and public understanding then, as well as now, tends to put things in different and often hostile ways of thinking and behaving. Thus it was important to focus on ways of bringing these two aspects together. During the tenure of his Wardenship, a link was established with Reuters and the Reuters Fellowship. The Green College Centre was subsequently moved first to the Department for Environmental Change, and then ultimately to the Oxford Martin School.

Speaker: Michael Pirie

Michael Pirie.  My talk was conducted as a tour of the gardens, starting in the Lankester Quadrangle. The former stable yard of the Observatory has been remodelled over the years with new paving and mature planting. The layout of the main garden owes much to the original, but the creation of new beds focuses attention on prominent view points. The opportunity to plant trees where they enhance the setting of the Observatory has been taken, with involvement from prominent college members. The cedars of Lebanon on the south side of the building, along with the sculpture of Dr John Radcliffe by Martin Jennings, anticipate the creation of the Humanities Building on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. Finally, we arrived at the venue for these talks, the McAlpine Quadrangle, whose garden was greatly remodelled with the completion of the library and lecture theatre project in 2014.

Speaker: Mary McMenamin

Mary McMenamin. Sir John Hanson (Warden of Green College from 1998 to 2006) skilfully presided over several changes in the college. His major accomplishments included an increase in the academic strength of the college with the appointment of several new fellows and a large increase in student numbers. This was accompanied by the purchase of new buildings, off-site, to accommodate the increase. He also enhanced international connections fostering links with overseas foundations in Japan, New Zealand and the US. The student body increased in diversity during his tenure, with 42 different nationalities present among the students in 2003.

In addition, with a view to further expansion, he secured planning permission for the College on the site of the tennis courts and this is still a major plan today. He initiated external conservation work on the Observatory and the work was recognised in 2005 with the Oxford Presentation Trust’s most prestigious award. He was instrumental in the preservation of the historic home of Sir William Osler by the purchase of 13 Norham Gardens, made possible by a donation from John P McGovern. His major legacy, however, was the initiation of the merger of Green College with Templeton College, which was brought to successful fruition in 2008 by his successor Colin Bundy.

Outside his role as Warden John Hanson had many interests ranging from sport, music and walking, to fine food and wine. Human relationships, however, were at the core of his Wardenship – he was deeply committed to the well-being of others.

Speaker: Colin Bundy

Colin Bundy. I never met Richard Doll – but I was fortunate to have met John Walton, Trevor Hughes, Crispin Tickell and John Hanson, and am very much aware of having been one link in a chain. John Hanson was an exemplary predecessor. He told me he would be available for help at any time – but only when asked. Indeed, John stayed away from college for most of Michaelmas 2006, to enable the new Warden to operate outside his predecessor’s shadow. I tried to follow his template with David Watson, who succeeded me as Principal of Green Templeton.

When first offered the position of Warden, a codicil asked me not to accept the job yet, as ‘there is something that you need to know before you do so.’ I learned subsequently that John Hanson and others had been involved in preliminary discussions with Templeton College about a possible merger. This was the central and defining feature of my time in office.

Much time and thought was devoted to the merger at Governing Body. We discussed budgets, buildings, staffing, student and fellowship numbers. Governing Bodies at both Green and Templeton debated at length on the new college name. ‘Radcliffe College’ was floated – in the end it was felt strongly that the major donors, Cecil Green and John Templeton, should be honoured.

The fellows of both governing bodies moved gradually, from concerns and reservations about a merger, to a near consensus in favour. Students were ‘early- adopters’. The Green MCR Presidents (Emma Link and Rich McKay) led their members in enthusiastic appreciation, identifying positive outcomes of merging – from prospective success on the river to new academic disciplines. Student approval undoubtedly helped make the eventual merger a success.

In Green College in 2006-2008 there were 340-350 students. I inherited the ‘Warden’s Collections’ system, with the great benefit of meeting every student annually, usually with College Advisers present, for rich and diverse conversations. In Michaelmas 2006, for the first time in its history, the university enrolled more first-time postgraduate students than new undergraduates. There was considerable emphasis on improving postgraduate experience. Green’s system of College Advisers was so well-developed that we were singled out as exemplary in this practice.

I was the last warden of Green College and the first Principal of Green Templeton College. As we look back with pride and affection at the history of Green College, we should regard the college’s embrace of the merger as truly innovative, imaginative and courageous: the first merger of Oxford colleges since the sixteenth century.

Speaker: Denise Lievesley

Denise Lievesley. I arrived in 2015 as successor to Sir David Watson, to find a College still in mourning for his untimely death while still in office. How sad that he could not be with us today to celebrate this anniversary. David was a deep and erudite thinker about the role of Higher Education. His influence lives on through his books, his learned papers and his many students.

Well before 2015 I was familiar with Green College, having spoken at the Education-themed Emerging Markets Symposium. Two aspects of the post of Principal attracted me:

  • To follow in the footsteps of Sir Richard Doll – a fellow member of the Statistical Dining Club.
  • To support the Reuters Institute, which to me continues to be a jewel in the Green Templeton crown. Especially nowadays given our concerns about trustworthiness of the media and politicians.

I inherited a college with a strong sense of community, fostering links across an eclectic mix of disciplines. We are well placed to tackle many of the problems confronting society today which require breaking down traditional boundaries to bring together health and social science, academia with policy and practice.

The Management in Medicine Programme deals with topics including health delivery, leadership and big data. It owes much of its success to a willingness to explore new ways of thinking. The supportive, non-judgmental tradition of the college allows us to discuss tough and sensitive issues such as assisted dying, mothers giving birth in prison, and the empowerment of marginalised groups such as prostitutes.

Our egalitarian ethos stimulates strong interactions among students, college staff and faculty. We are proud of the very high levels of student satisfaction that we achieve, despite being one of the poorer colleges with inadequate funds for hardship or scholarships. Our support for students needs to be maintained for they are the future!

There are a number of future developments I would like to see, including strengthening links with global alumni. Recent data show worrying increases in health and social inequalities throughout the world. How can we ensure that our commitment to human welfare is more than mere rhetoric? The students run an annual conference on these issues – how might their initiatives be enhanced? The world deserves better leaders from more socially conscious backgrounds, and it deserves them now. Some 280 students leave Green Templeton each year – we are working to help them make a difference.

Speaker: Sarah Lewington

Sarah Lewington also used Richard Doll’s memorable statement ‘death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not’ as the focus of her talk

At current death rates, it is estimated that 30 million people worldwide die prematurely (<70 years of age), over half of these deaths are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the majority of which occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Epidemiological findings from high-income populations have shown that raised blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, and smoking are all major causes of cardiovascular death. However, the effect of these major risk factors can vary greatly between populations at any one time and within populations over time, with important implications for disease aetiology and global health. Direct epidemiological evidence is needed in diverse populations, particularly in LMICs (which bear the greatest burden from NCDs and where there is a dearth of data). This talk presents findings from 5 large-scale prospective studies in India, Latin America and Russia involving >1.4M participants followed for up to 20 years showing similarities and differences in relationships of these major risk factors with cardiovascular death.

At the 2012 centenary of Richard Doll’s birth, an international symposium in Oxford brought together investigators from population-based prospective studies of >100,000 adults. It was decided to hold a similar meeting every few years, to promote collaboration and sharing of best practice between investigators of large cohort studies and to create an important global resource on the evolving effects of the major determinants of premature mortality.

After all the presentations had been delivered, attendees and speakers went to the dining hall in the Observatory where they enjoyed a Sunday roast buffet. Many individuals were able to catch up after many years, and the decibel level was similar to a weekday when the dining hall is full! The catering staff were warmly thanked.