Laureation address: Dr John Cameron CBE

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Professor Russell Morris FRS, School of Chemistry

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Dr John Cameron.

John Cameron is a resident of Fife, living between St Monans and Elie just down the coast from St Andrews. His primary career is as a farmer. But not just any old farmer – he was once described as the most important sheep farmer in Europe. Now, I have to say I was not aware that there was a Champions League for farming, but he is clearly Scotland’s agricultural equivalent of Lionel Messi!

As well as actually farming the land in Fife and Perthshire, during his long career he served on many governmental bodies, including the European Agricultural Presidium, based in Brussels. He was also Chairman of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, who work out of their headquarters in Paris, and chaired the wonderfully named European Union Sheepmeat Committee. He has also served as President of the Scottish National Farmers Union. John Cameron’s concerns also extend to international farming, and he has a very strong interest in Africa, and in particular in Malawi.

He has received many awards and prizes for his contribution to UK farming. In 1984 he was awarded a CBE for his services to UK agriculture and he has been awarded the Headley Prize for the person who contributes most to livestock breeding. More recently he became President of the Moredun Foundation, which promotes animal health and welfare through research and education; a subject to which he is extremely committed.

But, farming is not John Cameron’s only interest. He is also extremely well known for his work in transportation, and in particular his love of the railways. At various points in his career he served on the British Rail board, he was chairman of Scotrail and a director of South West Trains. As any good board member should be, he is a man of action and leads from the front. He is a qualified train driver still and I believe he occasionally took charge of passenger services for South West Trains. I think it would have been fun to be on one of those trains, especially to see the passenger reaction when the guard announced over the tannoy that the person in charge of their safety on the nine-fifteen from London Paddington to Penzance was indeed...the most important sheep farmer in Europe!

John Cameron is also a steam railway enthusiast. He owns not one but two steam locomotives, the Union of South Africa and the Great Marquess. Indeed, someone must trust his train driving skills as in 2015 during the opening of the reinstated Borders Line, he was the driver of the royal train that conveyed Her Majesty the Queen – a rather unusual Royal honour. I think it notable that Dr Cameron has also received an honorary degree from Napier University for his commitment and contribution to safety on the railways.

So he's had a career where he's learned to drive a tractor and a train – a four-year-old's dream job. But there's another string to John Cameron’s bow that aligns even more closely with the goals and ideals of this institution – education. For almost 40 years John Cameron gave up his spare time to act as a Governor at one of Scotland’s great schools, Dollar Academy. For the last thirty years of this time he was Chair of the Board of Governors.

John Cameron’s drive and commitment to ensuring that the pupils at Dollar receive the best opportunities possible is remarkable, and the University of St Andrews has benefited directly from the quality of education he supported. Over the last five years nearly 50 students have come from Dollar to study at the University of St Andrews, and 8 of these former Dollar pupils are graduating this week, although typically, as bad luck would have it, none of them today. Although at the very least, we do have one former pupil sitting on the stage behind me who would have benefited directly from John's work with the governors there.

During his time, he worked tirelessly to develop the prospects available to young people throughout the whole of Scotland by engaging with the Scottish Government on many of the important issues in education.

Vice-Chancellor, I am not sure if you are aware, but there is a stereotype of a Fife farmer. They have a reputation for – how can I put this delicately – being somewhat careful with their money. John Cameron is one Fife famer who does not fit the stereotype. While I am sure he is an astute businessman – “On time and on budget” being one of his favourite sayings – there is also a philanthropic twist to Dr Cameron. Along with his wife Margaret, who is here today, he set up the Cameron Trust, a fund that, amongst other things, gives money for school pupils to travel abroad to gain experience before entering further study. Reading from the website I note that one of the lofty aims of the Trust is to “offer young people the opportunity to undertake vocational working trips related to their studies with the view of broadening their experience and enhancing their life skills.”

His personal funding helps gap-year pupils to travel and complete public service and charitable projects that enrich the lives of both the young people themselves and those whom they work with, a truly wonderful philanthropic gift.

John Cameron is the epitome of the local boy done good. Whatever he turns his hand to he ends up making a significant contribution.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his leadership in the many fields of endeavour in which he is involved, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Dr John Cameron.

Response from Dr John Cameron

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Morris, ladies and gentleman, for me this is indeed a really wonderful occasion, and one which I shall always cherish, because for me, a simple farmer, and according to Professor Morris, not even a stereotype farmer – and incidentally, ladies and gentleman, he didn’t even mention poor farmer – but to receive such a worthy accolade from such a distinguished university makes today one of the most memorable occasions of my lifetime. And I would just like to say to you all how much I appreciate the honour you do me.

But there is, Vice-Chancellor, one other comment I would like to make regarding this distinguished university. Professor Morris mentioned my train driving interests, and I would like to tell you all that I was about to leave York recently whilst working steam special to Edinburgh, when a well-dressed man came to the cab window and asked if this was the locomotive that belonged to an old farmer in Fife. I replied, with as much grace as I could muster at that time, that I believed so and ended the conversation. But the reason I mention this, Vice-Chancellor, is that by one of these freak coincidences, I later found out that the same well-dressed gentleman was actually a distinguished professor at this university. I shall say no more.

But sincerely, ladies and gentleman, I would again like to thank you all at St Andrews for this most treasured honour. And I wish the university all the best for the future. Thank you.