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Exeter University chief and local historian set for Freedom of the City

Published: 12 September 2018

Exeter University Exeter University

Exeter University’s Vice Chancellor, Sir Steve Smith, looks set to be given the Freedom of the City along with local historian and author Dr Todd Gray.

Smith is to be honoured for his outstanding service to the city of Exeter during his 15 years as Vice Chancellor. Gray, who also works at the University as a Research Fellow in the History Department, is recognised for his passionate interest in Exeter’s historic buildings and his concern for their continued preservation.

Both nominations have been agreed by the City Council’s Executive and now go before Extraordinary Council on 16 October. If given the go-ahead, the ceremony is likely to take place at Exeter’s historic Guildhall later in the year.

Smith’s nomination reads: “The university has not only grown considerably, bringing financial benefits to the city, but more importantly has become one of the top universities in the country and indeed the world.”

It adds: “It is a leading member of the Russell Group, committed to maintaining the very best research and outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector. This has resulted in Exeter attracting students from all over the world, a positive benefit to the City. The medical school, established during his Vice Chancellorship, is recognised as one of the best in the UK. He also works closely with other important establishments to promote a great city.”

In response to his nomination, Smith said: “It would mean a lot to me to receive this honour but much more importantly I think it would mean a lot to my colleagues at the university. This is because over the last 16 years a large number of staff in the university and the City Council have spent a lot of time building a supportive and productive relationship between the two organisations.

“The incredible success of the city in recent years owes a lot to a large number of people, but a central role has been played by the way the university and City Council have worked together on education, on the economy, on arts and culture, and on planning. The results have benefited the population of Exeter at a time when many parts of the UK have suffered through austerity.

“The City Council, working with key partners including the university, have done much to alleviate those problems here. I have been incredibly pleased to see the development of the city during my time here and have been both proud and very happy to be a small part of that process. This honour would be the clearest possible indication of the ways in which by working together, the City Council and the university have achieved so much for the city and the region. I accept with humility and warmth.”

Gray on the other hand, has become a well-known face and voice around Exeter and achieved national and international recognition for excellence in his particular field.

His nomination states: “He is the person to whom everybody turns if any information on the history of Exeter is needed. As an American who chose to settle in Exeter twenty-eight years ago and became a British citizen, he has spent those years researching the history of Exeter and Devon and publishing countless books using original material he has found in this county’s and indeed the country’s archives and repositories. He has over the years opened his home and garden to representatives of all the local history societies to bring them together. He was the person television and radio companies contacted when the fire broke out in Cathedral Yard as it was his knowledge of Exeter’s historic buildings they knew they could rely on.”

When the front of the fire-damaged hotel was pulled down by a demolition crew he was seen to be visibly moved by the occasion. He has written several books on local history and even written questions for the BBC quiz show Mastermind.

In response to his nomination, Dr Gray said: “I feel not just overwhelmed but am stunned at being given this honour - who could anticipate being included in a group of individuals such as Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington? Over the last thirty years I have been fortunate in working alongside great historians such as Mark Stoyle, Julia Crick and John Allan and feel I share this honour with them and the many others who on a daily basis help explain the rich history of this extraordinary city which we all love and cherish.”

The City Council awards Freedom of the City to a number of military units with a close connection to the city as well as individuals who deserve the honour.

In the past, the position has been awarded to such names as Lord Nelson, Liam Tancock, Jo Pavey, Tony Rowe, Rob Baxter and Michael Caines.

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