On 16 April 2014, Fitzwilliam College enjoyed its annual feast to celebrate benefactors, the Commemoration Dinner. There are many special events in the Fitz calendar but many would agree that this is the most special. Certainly there is no bigger, no more splendid, a feast. Is there any irony that we thank our benefactors by indulging ourselves (and those of them who can attend, of course)? It could be said to be somewhat odd that we convince them of our (real) poverty, but then party so very effectively. In fact, it makes very good sense. Our thanks are very genuine. Conversation, enriched by special food and drink, is a traditional form of thank you.
Events started with a service of thanksgiving led by the Rev and Rt Hon the Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Theology, 1967). He is former President of the Methodist Conference and now Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel in London as well as an active Labour peer. It is perhaps surprising to find a man of the cloth taking a party whip in this way, but Lord Griffiths is wonderfully blunt speaking, and deeply loyal to his Welsh Labour roots. His address was wise and witty – and the take home message was, “When we’ve said our thanks, we’ve got work to do – to set our minds on the causes which really matter”. Lord Griffiths’ message was clear. Gratitude to benefactors is vital. But so is the often more difficult business of spending their money wisely, in the right ways.
From the Chapel we moved to the Old Library (now to be known as the Upper Hall). The inspired generosity of several alumni – Doug Webb (Geography and Management Studies 1979), Rachel Webb (Natural Sciences 1979), Paul Forster (Geography 1983) and the late Vivian Povah (Natural Sciences 1951) – has allowed the transformation of the shell of the original 1960s library space into a modern area, pregnant with potential.
From left: Doug Webb, Nicola Padfield, Rachel Webb, Paul Forster and Leszek Borysiewicz
(Vice Chancellor) in the new Upper Hall.
Benefactors of all sorts were celebrated that evening. At the Commemoration Dinner undergraduate scholars (those who have previously received first class results in Cambridge) are clapped into Hall, as they find their places for dinner, by all the other guests. The scholars are of course our benefactors: they have all done well by and for Fitz. We also offered our thanks to Tim Heath, who has served the College so well both as Manciple and Domestic Bursar for the last 14 years.
One absent friend very much in our thoughts was Professor Sir James Holt, who died the week before. Jim was Master of the College from 1981-88. A hugely respected medieval historian, tributes have been flowing in to Jim’s memory and we will be announcing the details of a memorial service shortly. He will be remembered in College not least as the Master when New Court was built. That was of course funded by generous benefactors. Our current ambitions are vast (and our needs great). We will go on giving thanks to those who allow us to realise these dreams. And I hope we will go on, just occasionally, feasting.
Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.