Glasgow University remembers Charles Kennedy

Published

Fraser McGowan
Deputy News Editor

Family, friends and colleagues of Charles Kennedy gathered in the Bute Hall on Thursday 18 June to remember the former Rector of Glasgow University, who died suddenly at the age of 55 after suffering a major haemorrhage at his home in Fort William on 1 June.

The service was led by the University Chaplain the Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, and was attended by Mr Kennedy’s family, as well as senior political figures including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell, the former Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell, and the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

A memorial fund, which was established by the University to commemorate the life of Mr Kennedy, was launched officially by Reverend MacQuarrie. The fund is intended to finance the naming of a major teaching facility in Charles Kennedy’s honour within the new Learning and Teaching Hub, which is due to be built as part of the campus redevelopment on the site of the car park next to the Boyd Orr Building.

The service began with an academic procession led by former University piper Donald Campbell, the brother of Alastair Campbell, both of whom were good friends of Mr Kennedy. Those attending were welcomed by the Chancellor of the University Professor Sir Kenneth Calman. He said of Mr Kennedy: “We enjoyed each other’s company and there was always banter and humour between the serious parts of our conversation. […] The last time I was in touch with him was on April 18, returning from Culloden, where I had laid a wreath on the battlefield and realised I was driving through his constituency and I dropped him a note to wish him well. […] I will always remember him with affection.”

Nina Macdonald read the poem When You Are Old by W. B. Yeats. David Mundell read the words of a psalm, Divine Majesty and Human Dignity, and Nicola Sturgeon read Jesus the Way to the Father from St John’s Gospel.

President of the Glasgow University Union, Rory Slater, paid a warm tribute to Mr Kennedy, saying: “I first saw Charles speak right here in this hall on my second day in Glasgow during one of his legendary Freshers addresses. His genuine warmth and welcome was felt by all present in this room, no matter from which corner of the globe.

“The best way to inspire in your audience a sense of pride and identity with an institution is to be proud of it and identify with it yourself. That pride shone forth brightly from Charles Kennedy and gave him a life-long bond with every student here –past, present and yet to come.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the president of the Students’ Representative Council Breffni O’Connor, who said: “Charles served as Rector of the University of Glasgow for two terms and was a true friend to the students. He worked hard to protect our interests and made sure that the student voice was heard at the highest level within the University.

“He was a very principled politician and a great activist on our behalf, who spoke passionately about his opinions and this University, whether in the Bute Hall or in the GUU debating chamber. His legacy will continue as we remember his commitment to the role and passion for the students here. […] Charles had compassion in his blood.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie read the poem Thankful I Am by Leslie Scrase. This was followed by an affectionate tribute by Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who recalled:

“His stance on the Iraq war and its aftermath shed another light on Charles’ character. In spite of his fundamental disagreement with the Prime Minister, and in spite of the hostility to which he’d been subjected, he was never vindictive about opponents. Even in private, I never heard him speak ill about those with whom he disagreed – frustration, yes, but malice no. I can’t help but think how much healthier would be the political climate in Scotland today if people, and overly zealous activists in particular, could emulate Charles Kennedy and respect the sincerely held views of others.”

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University Anton Muscatelli added: “We should not mourn his loss for long, rather celebrate his legacy, that true humanity has the capacity to rise above the things that divide. If the University has a profound sense of loss, we know that Charles’ family and his close circle of friends will be feeling it much more and our thoughts are with them all. […] Charles, you did a good job. It’s as simple as that.”

Brian McBride, who is a member of the University Court and former CEO of Amazon UK, also paid a personal tribute. He was a close friend of Charles Kennedy and was President of the GUU in 1975 when, as a judge for the English Speaking Union, he first met Kennedy as a school debater. He said: “Glasgow University was so important in so many ways; a large place for a lad from the Highlands. But when he became a huge political figure in Westminster, he never outgrew it – never forgot it. His touch and intuition with students was amazing, only the second person to be elected twice as Rector in 2008 and 2011, and, as you have heard, the first since Benjamin Disraeli in 1870.

“In 2008, on the morning of his first installation, he took two hours out to attend the funeral of a good friend of ours Mrs. Wallace, a mark of the man. I introduced him at his inauguration in 2011, and he was so happy, so excited, about getting the chance to serve the students for a second term. He is one of this university’s most beloved sons, and needless to say, he was admired and revered here by students, academics, and senior management alike.”

The service closed with the hymn, I Vow to Thee, My Country, followed by a Latin blessing delivered by Reverend MacQuarrie, before the academic procession was led by Donald and Alastair Campbell from the Bute Hall into the East Quadrangle.

Born in Inverness on 25 November 1959, Kennedy studied politics and philosophy at the University, graduating MA (Hons) in 1982. He was president of the Glasgow University Union from 1980 to 1981 and won the British Observer Mace for University Debating in 1982. He received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2001 and served two terms as Rector from 2008 to 2014. He was leader of the Liberal Democrats between 1999 and 2006.