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University Honours Olympian Rower, Naval Commander and International Architect


Robert Gordon University conferred three honorary degrees at its winter graduation ceremonies on 9 and 10 December to naval commander Rear Admiral Nick Harris, Olympian rower Katherine Grainger and international architect Gordon Benton.

Rear Admiral Nick Harris was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Law on Thursday 9 December. After leaving school at 17½, Rear Admiral Harris began his first of four years of training at Britannia Royal Naval College, including a term at sea in the Mediterranean.

An offer to serve in submarines for a limited period of two years followed and at age 30 Rear Admiral Harris was selected to undergo the submarine command course, Perisher. Passing Perisher is a career changing moment, and from this Rear Admiral Harris went on to command the diesel powered conventional submarine, HMS Oberon, after which he was honoured with an MBE, and the nuclear powered HMS Sovereign.

Further highlights of his career included studying at the US Naval War College, two years as the submarine advisor to the British Naval Staff in Washington, working in the Ministry of Defence during the 1997 General Election and defence review, command of a squadron of seven nuclear submarines and working up to become Deputy Submarine Force Commander.

Rear Admiral Harris was awarded the US Legion of Merit for his role as British Naval Attaché to the USA, which covered the loss of the submarine ‘KURSK', 9/11 and the attack on the Pentagon, and the start of the second Gulf War in Iraq.

Katherine Grainger, who was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Law on Friday 10 December, was the first British female athlete in any sport to gain medals in three consecutive Olympic Games - silver medals in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

Born in Glasgow in 1975 and brought up in Aberdeen, Katherine was a keen sportswoman from an early age. However, it was while studying law at Edinburgh University that she was introduced to rowing. By the time she had graduated with an Honours degree in 1997 such was her performance in the sport she had achieved the accolade of being nominated the most outstanding athlete for two years in succession and had also won a gold medal in the coxless pairs in the World under 23 championships in record time.

A full-time rowing career versus pursuing education could have been a difficult choice, but Katherine opted to undertake an MPhil in Medical Law and Ethics at Glasgow University while continuing to train part-time. On completion she returned to rowing full-time and over the next few years showed her true talent, dedication to and versatility in the sport by competing in the women's eight at world championship level before moving to the quadruple sculls where she secured her first Olympic silver medal in Sydney in 2000.

Racing in the coxless pairs in 2003 resulted in a World Championship gold medal followed by a silver medal in the same event at the Olympics in Athens in 2004. Such has her versatility contributed to her success that a move back to the quadruple sculls led to gold in the World Championships in Japan in 2006 and she further added to her gold collection in the same event in Munich 2007. In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics she gained her third Olympic silver medal and now sets her focus on London 2012
and the ultimate prize of winning the elusive Olympic gold medal.

Not withstanding the punishing six day training regime with the British squad, Katherine combines the programme with her PhD studies in homicide at London University. In addition she also finds time to support many charities and is active in visiting Schools to encourage young people to participate in sport.

Success in 2010 has been no different with achievement of World Championship gold in November at yet a different event, the double sculls. She was appointed an MBE in 2006 for services to rowing.

Gordon Benton was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Technology on 10 December. Gordon is an architect who has forged a unique career working principally in South East and East Asia, and in which he recognised the importance of sustainable development as a crucial ingredient for the design of vibrant communities, long before such interests entered mainstream consciousness.

In 1984 Gordon established his own architects practice in Singapore, winning a number of design competitions and awards in Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. On winning an invited competition for Jakartabaru Cosmopolitan, a 2,500 hectare Indonesian New Town, Gordon was invited to join the Lippo Group, a leading banking and financial house. He joined Lippo in 1991 as Director in charge of Planning and Development for the 1,000 hectare urban development of Lippo Karawaci to the west of Jakarta.

Over the years Gordon has worked as an architect, developer, city manager, quantity surveyor, environmental engineer, planner, landscape architect, multi-million bond raiser, lecturer and project media promoter, sometimes all at the same time.

Despite a career principally spent overseas, Gordon has always been a stalwart of the Scottish community and has held the position of Chieftain of the St Andrew's Societies in Singapore, Brunei as well as Java, Indonesia. In these roles he has promoted many cultural links and activities, including the Jakarta Highland Gathering, now perhaps the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. He was later awarded Honorary Life Patron of the annual Gathering. The value of this work from which enduring links were forged between Indonesia and Scotland was recognised in 1977 when Gordon was awarded the OBE by the Queen for services to the expatriate community in Indonesia. The tie with Scotland has endured, and for family reasons Gordon will very shortly return to live in the North East.

Notes to editors:

Pictures are available on request. For more information, please contact the Communications Office.

Issued on behalf of Robert Gordon University by:

Jonathan Shackleton
Head of Communications
Tel: 01224 262031
Mobile: 07970 622229