Les Rees is Director of Regional Liaison at Cardiff University. He writes of his 20 year association with the University and his involvement in the merger of the University of Wales College of Medicine and Cardiff University in 2004
1 February 1986 – a Saturday. Having had a very “late” last day at Swansea University I was enjoying a lie in when the phone rang at 9.00am. I stumbled out of bed and went downstairs – no mobiles in those days. It was Alun Roberts, then Registrar and Secretary of the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM), asking me where I was and was wondering if there had been a problem in getting from Swansea to Cardiff. He told me that UWCM was open for business on Saturdays as clinicians and students were working as normal. Technically, it was indeed my first day of employment at UWCM: so maybe I should have been there! I broke out into a cold sweat and mumbled something or other – I can’t recall what exactly. It was a wind up, of course, but it typified Alun’s humour and the spirit which pervaded the UWCM team both at that time and in all of the years that followed.
That conversation was the start both of a long friendship with Alun and of my connection to “Cardiff University”. Those early days were characterised by strong leadership from Sir Herbert Duthie, then Provost of UWCM, who had the surgeon’s knack of making the right decision and just letting people get on with it. Subsequently, and with a change of title to Vice-Chancellor, came Ian Cameron, a physician who, perhaps in the style of all physicians, would listen to the opinion of others although he had a very firm sense of the direction in which he wished to take the University. In the years leading up to merger, UWCM was led by Steve Tomlinson. His style of leadership, empowering staff and promoting a sense of inclusivity, was a major strength to those of us at UWCM during the pre-merger discussions. He, alongside Dr David Grant, was especially steadfast in his belief that merger was the right thing to do. Together their shared vision has provided a platform for the next 125 years.
In eighteen years of working closely with NHS colleagues, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of continuity in the higher education sector which the health service in Wales simply did not have. NHS structures came and went and with each new structure came the threat for colleagues in the health service of the loss of jobs or of having to apply for roles which they were currently filling. I think it made our own merger discussions, when they came around, seem all the more sensible, well managed and “do-able”. Yes there were times of challenge and difficulty but there was a belief that this was the right thing to do and a vision that the new Cardiff University could, collectively, go from strength to strength and indeed take its place on the world stage.
Memories? There really are so many excellent memories but I should highlight a trip to Japan to receive an Honorary Fellowship from Kobe-Gakuin University. Perhaps also a degree ceremony in Curaçao when the then Vice-Chancellor (Ian Cameron), the Dean of Nursing and I conducted the ceremony in Welsh for a group of somewhat bemused Dutch-speaking postgraduate nurses before going out to celebrate “Carnival”. It’s sometimes a tough job but someone has to do it!
Best of all, so many colleagues who have become friends. They know who they are and I thank them for the privilege of working with them over the last twenty odd years or so.