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Queen Mary awards honorary degrees to two outstanding individuals

Gareth Thomas and Professor Mark Wilson received honorary doctorates from Queen Mary University of London yesterday (9 January) as part of our winter graduation ceremonies.

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The honorary degrees recognise the awardees’ invaluable contributions to LGBTQ+ and HIV advocacy, and neurosurgery and pre-hospital care. Queen Mary congratulates this year’s recipients for their successes and service to others.

Gareth Thomas is a former international rugby player and LGBTQ+ and HIV advocate. Gareth represented Wales in both rugby union and league. In December 2009, he became the first openly gay professional rugby player. Through his Tackle HIV campaign and work with groups such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, he has become the UK’s most notable HIV activists. In 2019, he produced a BBC documentary ‘HIV and me’ which aimed to dispel many of the myths associated with the virus, including its transmissibility, quality of life, and longevity of patients who live with HIV. In this programme, Gareth meets Professor Chloe Orkin, Clinical Professor of HIV at Queen Mary and Director of the SHARE Collaborative, who helped him to tackle the stigmas, myths and misunderstandings surrounding the condition.

On receiving a Doctor of Sciences Honorary Degree of Queen Mary, Gareth said:

“It’s a huge honour for me to receive this degree for many reasons. Queen Mary has a real special place with me. When I visited Queen Mary for the first time while I was doing my documentary on HIV, I came across a Professor Chloe Orkin. To come across somebody who had such a knowledge of science, such a knowledge of medicine, and such a knowledge of human nature and how people reacted, for me, was actually the first time since my diagnosis that I believed I could not just live a happy life, but thrive. So for me, coming back to Queen Mary and now having this tie with that defining moment in my life to remember it by is a really special thing.”

Queen Mary alumnus Professor Mark Wilson also received an honorary degree. Mark is a Consultant Neurosurgeon and Pre-Hospital Care Specialist, working at Imperial College London NHS Trust and as an Air Ambulance doctor. He is a Clinical Professor specialising in brain injury at Imperial and an Honorary Professor of Pre-Hospital Care (the Gibson Chair) at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. His particular clinical interest is acute and traumatic brain injury, especially in the first few minutes and hours after injury. He has worked extensively overseas, including as a NASA researcher and on arctic and Everest expeditions.

He is the co-founder of GoodSAM, a revolutionary smartphone application (named after the Good Samaritan pub on our Whitechapel campus), which alerts doctors, nurses, paramedics and those trained in basic life support to emergencies in their area. On average, GoodSAM now deploys a trained responder to a cardiac arrest every 3 minutes. It is now the world’s most advanced emergency alerting and dispatching platform, used by over 180 organisations and one million users across the world.

On receiving a Doctor of Sciences Honorary Degree of Queen Mary, Professor Wilson said:

“I really can’t express how deeply honoured I am to receive this Honorary Degree. I have many fond memories of my time studying at Queen Mary and without a doubt, the outstanding academics who taught me (and still do!) shaped my career and life in ways I would never have imagined when I started in 1992. Queen Mary inspires creativity in doing things differently and I very much hope that I can impart some of this experience and what I have learnt from others, to help the next generation on their journey through science and medicine.

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