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Birthday Honours for Edinburgh alumni

Alumni contributions to foreign policy, medicine, the community response to Covid-19, and work with survivors of sexual abuse have been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours list 2020.

Seventeen individuals connected to the University of Edinburgh, including alumni, honorary gradautes and members of staff, have been named in the Queen's Birthday Honours list, published in October 2020. Here, we learn more about the significant achievements of four graduates in different fields.

Clinical pharmacology research and education

Professor David Webb CBE

Professor David Webb is Christison Chair of Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology. He works in the fields of hypertension, kidney disease and cardiovascular health and is based in the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh. He holds a Doctor of Science (DSc) in Medicine from the University.

He was “delighted” to receive a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) recognising his services to clinical pharmacology research and education, which he thinks “remains one of the most rewarding medical disciplines”.

In his 30 years based in Edinburgh, Professor Webb has made a huge impact, not only in the fields of cardiovascular medicine and clinical pharmacology, but also wider clinical research.

“I have had the pleasure of living in a wonderful city and collaborating with a fantastic set of trainees, colleagues and collaborators in cardiovascular medicine and clinical pharmacology. I have had the chance to establish the University’s first Clinical Research Centre, the University’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science (and acting as its first director), the Queen’s Medical Research Institute on the Little France site (a team effort) and develop several cardiovascular medicines that are now in common use,” he said.

Covid-19 and Brexit have shaped Professor Webb’s focus in 2020:

“With MHRA, the UK medicines regulator, I have been preparing for the changes that will emerge from Brexit and Covid-19, the former to becoming an innovative international stand-alone regulator, and the latter in supporting fast-track vaccine trials and licensing. In my research, I have been working with Richard Weller and Chris Dibben on Covid-19 studies that suggest sunlight may protect against the virus (by generating nitric oxide in the skin), and clinically I have been seeing most of my patients ‘virtually’ in the Cardiovascular Risk Clinic to protect them from the virus. Taken together, it’s been a busy, exhausting but ultimately productive year.”

Professor David Webb CBEChristison Chair of Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology

Read more on the SCOPE blog from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

Professor Webb’s staff profile

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Sarah Nelson

Dr Sarah Nelson has been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her longstanding work on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Sarah holds an MA in Politics from the University of Edinburgh and works as a Research Associate at the University's Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR). Her work has led to advisory positions to the Scottish Government and Parliament. She has published and contributed to numerous publications on the impact of childhood sexual abuse, and has worked extensively with public bodies and charities.

As a researcher Sarah conducted a project with Scottish charity Health in Mind that focused on the mental health needs of female survivors of childhood sexual abuse and a project on the life histories of male survivors. 

I was delighted to receive the OBE for my work over many years with and for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I hope that in a small way the award might raise the profile of this work, a subject which many among media and public will talk about, but for which it has remained consistently hard to achieve either genuine change or research funding. I have appreciated very much the consistent support of Edinburgh University's Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) for my research projects with both women and men, and personally from Professor Lynn Jamieson, who never doubted what the value and contribution of my work could be through some difficult times in the past.

Dr Sarah Nelson OBEResearch Associate,  Centre for Research on Families and Relationships

Centre for Research on Families and Relationships

Sarah's opinion piece for The Scotman on child abuse in Scotland -  22 October 2020 (external site)

British foreign policy

Dr John Walker OBE

Dr John R Walker has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to British foreign policy. He retired as Head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit (ACDRU) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in May 2020.

“I think the main thing really is that this is ultimately recognition by your peers not just in the FCO but across Whitehall and elsewhere. Over the years I had been asked to comment on proposed honours awards for others, so I’m aware of the considerations that lie behind them. That, I suppose, makes the honour mean even more.”

Dr Walker joined the FCO in 1985 while completing his Edinburgh PhD on British Attitudes to Nuclear Proliferation 1952-1982. During his 35-year career he worked on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons arms control and found time to publish two books on arms control history.

His final working months were as busy as ever:

 Things were hectic in the months before I retired. Trips to Washington, Vienna, New York and Pretoria for meetings on arms control and disarmament matters kept me busy with New York proving the highlight. To mark the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s 50th anniversary of its entry into force, its three depositary powers (the UK, USA and Russia) published compendia of their state papers on the Treaty’s negotiation between 1965 and 1968. I was responsible for selecting examples from the UK’s National Archives and was asked to present these at conference held in the United Nations.  My first research task in the FCO in 1985 was on the Treaty’s history, so I had closed my career with the same topic 35 years later.

Dr John Walker OBELately Head,  Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Dr John R Walker's alumni profile details his studies at Edinburgh and his career at the FCO (published September 2017)

Community effort

Dr Michelle Cooper MBE

Dr Michelle Cooper, a PhD graduate in PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, has been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The Chief Executive of County Durham Community Foundation was recognised for her outstanding contribution to the community effort seen through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the National Emergencies Trust chose to use the UK’s network of community foundations to distribute money – more than £65million - raised through a national appeal.  Led by Michelle, County Durham Community Foundation made £1.3million in grants in the first 120 days of lockdown across Durham, Darlington and Teesside and is ongoing in its efforts to help communities survive and recover.

She explained: “I think I can look back now and say we were able to do that because of our generous supporters, and because we are so established. There’s that one person in every community who goes above and beyond and we know those people. They have terrific energy and ideas that really help, and through the pandemic we’ve seen them rise up and do the seemingly impossible.

"We think we’ve been able to show how powerful a Community Foundation is at bringing the right people together – those who want to give and those who want to help.”

It is the privilege of my life to have been part of a response far greater than any one person, and to do my bit for our fantastic network of Community Foundations.

Everything we do is about teamwork and I really feel that I must accept this on behalf of the groups and individuals we are able to fund through County Durham Community Foundation, and our generous supporters. Without the team, which is really hundreds of people – the businesses and individuals that support us, the groups we fund, our trustees and our staff team, we wouldn’t have been able to help in the way that we did.

I want to thank every single person who made our emergency grant-making possible, and who turned those grants into such far-reaching, life-saving care.

Dr Michelle Cooper MBEChief Executive, County Durham Community Foundation

Read about County Durham Community Foundation's work during Covid-19 and its latest annual review (external site)

Related links

Staff recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours 2020

The Birthday Honours list 2020 in full (external site)