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University pays tribute to Lord Ashley, first Chancellor of Staffordshire University

Tributes have been made to Staffordshire University’s first Chancellor who died at the weekend.

Jack Ashley died, aged 89, after suffering from pneumonia. The politician, who made his name as the UK’s first deaf MP, retired from the House of Commons at the 1992 general election and was made a life peer and awarded the title Baron Ashley of Stoke the same year.

Lord Ashley of Stoke also served as Chancellor of Staffordshire University until 2004 having previously served the area as Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South for 26 years. A year after his election to Parliament, at the age of 45, he became profoundly deaf as a result of complications during a routine ear operation.

During his political career, he became a tireless campaigner on many issues including disability and women’s rights. He received a cochlear implant in 1994 which restored much of his hearing.

Leading tributes for the University, Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Gunn said: “My view is that Jack was one of the great constituency and campaign Members of Parliament of the twentieth century. He did an enormous amount for people with disabilities. He promoted Stoke-on-Trent in many ways.  For me, Jack and Stoke-on-Trent were synonymous.”

Vice-Chancellor Emerita, Professor Christine King said Lord Ashley - who was inaugurated as the University’s Chancellor in the Spring of 1993 - understood Staffordshire University and was a model of the fact that disadvantage or disability is no barrier to greatness.

She added: “Jack was a wonderful man; someone really special. He was respected and admired and yet was totally open and accessible - always interested in the stories of students and staff, celebratory of not just the success but of the often tough journey to get there.

“We learnt a lot from Jack and what we learnt from him is deeply embedded in the University's DNA. He respected and valued difference. He understood that to succeed, as an individual or as a university community, we have to stand up for what we believe in and be prepared to fight for it.

“Jack and his late wife, Pauline, who was also wonderfully supportive, were both champions and friends who really made a difference. Lord Ashley will always be 'Jack' to us at Staffordshire University. His legacy will continue as our graduates over the years take on the fight that Jack pioneered. We were privileged to share values and time with someone so exceptional.”

Lord Bill Morris of Handsworth, who succeeded Lord Ashley in the role of Chancellor of the University from 2004 – 2011, added: “I had the privilege to succeed Jack as Chancellor of Staffordshire University and enjoyed the benefit of his good advice and friendship. I was later proud to have him as one of my two sponsors when I was introduced as a Member of the House of Lords.

“Jack was a true inspiration to people with disabilities but they are not alone in the loss of a true advocate to champion their cause. A fitting tribute to his Parliamentary work would be the passing into law of his Bill to enable people with disabilities to live independently.”