Laureation address: Dr Richard Holloway

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Professor Paul Hibbert, Dean of Arts and Divinity

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Dr Richard Holloway.

Looking at Dr Holloway's achievements, it feels like I have three people worthy of this honour to present.

First there is the Dr Holloway who has made major contributions to public life: as a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and chair of its Ethics Committee; as a member of the British Medical Association’s steering group on Ethics and Genetics; as a member of the Broadcasting Standards Commission; and as Chair of the Scottish Arts Council.

Second, there is the writer and broadcaster, whose books gather awards and critical acclaim in many genres. In autobiography, if you have not yet read Leaving Alexandria, let me implore you to read what many consider to be his most moving book. In ethical discourse, we could mention On Forgiveness; Desmond Tutu described the end of that book as ‘simply devastating’. He is right. Then there is his considerable reflection on religion, not least his recent book A Little History of Religion, which has been described as ‘elegant and compelling’. Speaking as a hack writer of academic prose, I am trying not to be envious. I am not quite succeeding.

And what about the third Dr Holloway? That would be the Former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a man of faith and love. But the faith may principally be a faith in humanity, and the love is sometimes a fierce one, driven by compassion and justice. Looking at his career, you can see it is the faith in humanity that drives his public service and his advocacy for diversity and inclusion. His love echoes through all of his work, from falling in love with church tradition as a small boy, through an intense friendship in his religious years and the faithful loves of family life, to a generous loving kindness recognized by many people across Scotland. And it was a fierce love for justice that eventually led him to stand down from the highest levels of church leadership. Honorary doctorates are not generally awarded for faith and love, but I would be willing to argue his case.

Indeed, you can unite the three pictures of Dr Holloway under the banner of love. Reflecting on his love of poetry, reading his work, and reading about his life of service, I think that all three pictures could be summarised in some lines from another writer, WH Auden. Here is how they read:

Looking up at the Stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
But on Earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return
If equal affection cannot be
Let the more loving one be me.

Because there is only one Richard Holloway. The more loving one.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contributions to literature, public life and ethical debate, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Dr Richard Holloway.

Response from Dr Richard Holloway

Thank you, Paul, for those too kind words. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful day to be honoured in the midst of this joy. I’m writing a book about old age at the moment called Waiting for the Last Bus, and I wanted to reflect on the meaning of a word in my Latin New Testament.

Here it is: I bought it for 35 pence in a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh, but it actually comes from St Andrews University. I want to read you the fly-leaf: on the top right-hand corner, in elegant handwriting, it reads, “Alexander Stewart, St Mary’s College, St Andrews”. And fixed into the page is a kind-regards card that says, “With the Rev H.J. White's kind regards,” and in Alexander Stewart’s handwriting, at the bottom of the card it says, “January 1912”.

White was the editor of this edition of a more than 1500-year-old Latin translation of the New Testament. And the man to whom he sent it, Alexander Stewart, I discovered was Principal and Professor of Divinity here at St Andrews, and a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He didn’t live long after receiving Professor White’s gift, this very volume I have in my hand; he died unexpectedly in the summer of 1915. The editor, HJ White, lived on till 1934.

So this little volume, more than a century old, carrying a Latin text that is more than 1500 years old, helped me think something through. I’m grateful to this ancient university for the honour it has done me this day. That’s why, before I get on the last bus myself, I’ll have this book sent back to St Andrews. And maybe in a hundred years’ time, in June 2117, another old guy will stand up here and tell the assembly he was writing a book and needed to check a word in the Latin New Testament, and you can guess the rest.

A simple message, dear friends: ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short. So make the most of it, live your life to the full, live your life to the max, and God speed you on all the roads you’ll take. Amen.