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Eight honoured by University

From the railways to the space station, from cartoons to opera, the University of Leeds has honoured eight remarkable people who have each made a major impact in their field of expertise.

Honorary degrees were bestowed as follows:

Lawyer and local government chief David Ansbro - Honorary Doctor of Laws
Opera singer Dame Josephine Barstow - Honorary Doctor of Music
Astronaut Piers Sellers - Honorary Doctor of Science
Biologist Professor Janet Thornton - Honorary Doctor of Science
Cartoonist Steve Bell - Honorary Doctor of Letters
Novelist Professor Anita Desai - Honorary Doctor of Letters
Plastic surgeon Dr Fiona Wood - Honorary Doctor of Medicine
Computer pioneer Professor Tony Wren - Honorary Doctor of Engineering


David Ansbro
After graduating from the University of Leeds in 1966, David Ansbro trained as a solicitor before embarking on a distinguished career in local government during which he was chief executive of York City Council, Kirklees Metropolitan Council and finally Leeds City Council. In 1991 he joined law firm Eversheds and was managing partner of the company from 2000 until he retired in 2003. David has been a member of the University's governing body, the Council, since 1998 and its Pro-Chancellor since 2000 - a position from which he is due soon to retire.

Dame Josephine Barstow
During a long career, opera singer Dame Josephine Barstow has performed in most of the world's major opera houses and with many of the great conductors. In 1986 she made a historic trip to the Soviet Union, becoming the first westerner to sing at the Bolshoi in 25 years. She has had a fruitful relationship with Leeds-based Opera North singing such roles as Tosca, Aida, Medea, Lady Billows and Gloriana. In 1985 she was awarded a CBE and in 1995 she was made DBE.

Dr Piers Sellers
Dr Piers Sellers completed his PhD in geography at the University of Leeds in 1981, joining NASA a year later as an environmental scientist. He was selected as an astronaut in 1996, and six years later became only the third Briton in space when he joined an Atlantis shuttle mission. He blasted off again aboard the shuttle Discovery in July 2006, taking part in three lengthy space walks. On a recent visit to the University, Dr Sellers and colleagues from the Discovery mission entertained a spellbound auditorium with their tales from space - and showed video footage shot aboard the shuttle and on the International Space Station.

Professor Janet Thornton
Pioneering biologist Professor Janet Thornton has been Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge since 2001 and is a leading authority on the classification of protein structures. Her main research has been in examining the relationships between the structure, sequence and function of proteins, and she has helped design a number of computer programmes to analyse this data. She is now developing new techniques for organising the torrent of information arising from genome programmes.

Steve Bell
Cartoonist Steve Bell graduated from the University with a fine art degree in 1974. His satirical cartoon strip Maggie's Farm first appeared in Time Out in 1979, but he is best known for his incisive If... series in the Guardian. He has gained an international reputation for his cartoons and illustrations for a range of publications. He has made several short animations for TV, published sixteen books of cartoons and was named International Cartoonist of the Year in 2003. In 2006 the University hosted a major exhibition of his work to mark the 25th anniversary of his first Guardian strip.

Professor Anita Desai
Indian novelist and short story writer Professor Anita Desai began writing in English at the age of seven, publishing her first story at the age of nine. She is noted for her sensitive portrayal of the inner life of her female characters. Her novel Fasting, Feasting, which contrasted American and Indian culture and male and female roles, was a finalist for the 1999 Booker Prize. She received the Guardian Award for Children's fiction in 1982.

Dr Fiona Wood
Yorkshire-born Dr Fiona Wood is head of the burns unit at the Royal Perth Hospital, director of the Western Australia burns service and Professor in the School of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Western Australia. She is a pioneer in the technology of cultured skin for burns victims and was propelled into the spotlight following the Bali bombings of 2002, when she led a fight to save 28 patients transferred to the Royal Perth Hospital with a combination of severe burns, deadly infection and delayed shock. She was named Australian of the Year in 2005. 

Professor Tony Wren
Professor Tony Wren's University of Leeds career spanned 42 years. In 1963 he was responsible for the world's first computerised train schedule, and he went on to revolutionise the scheduling of transport operations across the world. More recently he has built schedules for the country's largest bus operator, FirstBus. Universities UK placed his software within the top 100 world-changing discoveries, innovations and research projects to come out of UK universities in the last 50 years.

For further information: 

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

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