Congratulatory Address: Ruth Hunt

Tuesday 29 November 2016


Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family of St Andrews University, friends and family of Sally, it is a great honour to deliver this address this evening.

I am someone in my professional career who delivers a significant number of addresses to various audiences of significant sizes and significant seniority, but there has been nothing more terrifying than the prospect of this address. And when Professor Mapstone – who I will occasionally during this address call Dr Mapstone because to a certain extent Dr Mapstone will always be my Dr Mapstone – when Professor Mapstone asked me to do this I, of course, said yes, because one does not refuse Professor Mapstone. And I hope that during this address I can impart some other wisdom about how to get the best out of Professor Mapstone during her time with you.

I have been preoccupied with this address and even resorted to returning to my original middle Scots text on Henderson and Dunbar in the hope that the text I turned to in 1999 would provide me with some guidance and solace during this time. It is works that were mainly preoccupied with food and many other things beginning with ‘f’ that were inappropriate as a basis for this address and therefore I hope you will forgive me and indulge me when I tell you a little about how I met Professor Mapstone and my experiences of her and what, I hope, she will bring to you.

I first met Professor Mapstone in 1997. I was 17-years-old, and going to interview at the University of Oxford. I was one of the first of my family to go to university at that stage, my parents having studied at night school, and very much valued higher education and saw it as an essential prerequisite to any hope of escaping a working class background. But I certainly didn’t know the rules and regulations that come with entering Higher Education at 17. My parents were very anxious for me, and as I stood inside a very austere door wondering what exactly lay behind it, I too was anxious about whether I would be able to be accepted at a place like Oxford and whether it was a place where I could be myself.

‌I was indeed, young scrappy and hungry and thank you for those who recognise the Hamilton reference. Young, scrappy and hungry, and I didn’t want to waste my shot and so, with some trepidation as the door opened and I met Professor Mapstone for the first time, I came in and sat on a chair to see a large full-life cardboard cut-out of Mel Gibson as depicted in Braveheart. Now, at 17, I of course understood that Mel Gibson as Braveheart was a very poor depiction of history and did no justice to the complexity of the different types relationships that were going on at that time. I knew of course that Professor Mapstone had an equally high level of understanding of Mel Gibson and Braveheart’s shortcomings, which meant I could only conclude that she had him on her wall because he was a handsome man in a skirt.

So this young, openly gay women knew she could be herself in this context and was allowed to be as clever and obnoxious and arrogant and lost and found as she could possibly want to be, and what Professor Mapstone recognised in me at 17 was a huge potential – a potential I didn’t recognise in myself. That despite the lack of polish, and the lack of learning and understanding about the rules of engagement, she saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, which was a potential to succeed. And that’s what Professor Mapstone sees in everybody – their potential to succeed.

I was by no means her most gifted academic student – I don’t even think I was in the top 20 per cent – but I certainly gave my all and it’s exactly what Professor Mapstone expected and demanded of me. It wasn’t always easy: I remember the feeling even now when I went to one tutorial in three years – one tutorial, slightly under prepared. Professor Mapstone saw through my bluster in about two and a half minutes, fixed me with a steely gaze and informed me that I would never, ever come to her room again slightly under-prepared. And to this day I have never, ever gone into any room slightly under-prepared. Because although Professor Mapstone will always see your potential, she will expect you to deliver exactly in line with your potential. She will expect you to give your all, deliver on time, on budget and above specification, and ensure that you never let yourself down in relation to your own potential.

ruth-hunt-installation-mainbody-2As my career has developed and I have seen Professor Mapstone’s career develop, I realise on reflection how privileged I was to go through those formative years of my development learning from a woman who so gracefully inhabited natural leadership, with an authenticity and a power and an intellect that is often rare in our common societies. I’ve seen her work in the increasingly complex politics of university life, with increasingly large groups of men – and I would have to acknowledge Professor Mapstone, they were literally giants compared to you in most settings in which you operated – but very, very few could claim to be intellectual giants compared to you.

What Professor Mapstone occupied was an absolute sense of her own abilities. And I think in a world where expertise and women are being diminished, as has already been eluded to this afternoon, St Andrews needs more than ever someone like Professor Mapstone at your helm. She is someone who will be able to demonstrate not just to Scotland, not just to the United Kingdom, but indeed to Europe and the world that we value our woman, we value our expertise and we celebrate and enable the very best of our people to perform to the best of their abilities, and that St Andrews has the potential to be a truly meritocratic institution that thrives on talent and potential.

I envy you, St Andrews, for the time you have ahead of you. I envy you for the time you will have with Professor Mapstone, but I must urge you to fasten your seatbelts, folks. Do not in any way underestimate the power of this very small woman for she will take you with her and she will demand loyalty and she will return every bit of loyalty you give to her tenfold.

So my warmest congratulations to you Professor Mapstone, and my warmest congratulations to you St Andrews.

Thank you.

Ruth Hunt is currently Chief Executive of UK-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transequality charity Stonewall, the largest LGBT equality body in Europe and was formerly President of the Oxford University Student Union.
Picture captions
Top (from left): Ruth Hunt, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone and Chancellor The Rt Hon Lord Campbell of Pittenweem CH CBE QC
Bottom (from left): Master of the United College Professor Garry Taylor and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone

For further information, contact the University of St Andrews press office on 01334 46 2530 or via [email protected].

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