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Michael Alexander Robert YOUNG-HERRIES

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

It might be suggested that Michael Alexander Robert YOUNG-HERRIES is best remembered in Hong Kong as the erstwhile Taipan of our most famous firm. But if such were the case it would do scant justice to a man who has rendered manifold contributions to the community. That it is emphatically not the case is, I trust, Sir, attested by this our present tribute.

After a country childhood in the Scottish lowlands, a part of the world which has produced many leaders in Hong Kong’s history and in which his own family has been firm rooted for generations out of mind, Michael Herries ventured south, to England, for his education. From Eton, where he excelled in Classics and sport, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. For one precious year, he continued his classical studies, rowed for his college, and, shooting became a life-long passion, engaged, as he himself has freely confessed, in a little poaching on the side. Such delights were abruptly terminated when in 1942 he joined the Regiment which his father had commanded, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The major part of his military service was spent in the Low Countries and Germany. His was a hazardous war and even he, for all his characteristic modesty, admits he was lucky to escape unscathed. His courage and initiative did not pass unnoticed, however, and in 1945 he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. From Europe his regiment was transferred to the Middle East, to Egypt and Palestine, and it was only in 1947 that Mr Herries was able to return to Cambridge to complete his studies. It was in this period that he formed two vital unions – he married and he joined Jardine, Matheson.

Mr and Mrs Herries arrived in Hong Kong in early 1949. It is not my intention to dilate upon his remarkable career in the firm of his choice. In June 1963 he became Chairman and for the next seven years he both prompted and presided over the rapidly expanding fortunes of his house. His calm confidence and tactful determination in the troubled year of 1967 was of prime importance and was duly recognised when he received the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1968 New Year’s Honours List.

By 1970, the year of his retirement from the East, Michael Herries was either Chairman or director of nigh-on fifty companies. Nevertheless, he had an outstanding record of public service, having served on many public bodies, including membership of the Legislative Council, and on numerous Government advisory committees. How so much was accomplished must remain a marvel. Much must be allowed for his drive and application, for his capacity for judicious delegation, for that toughness combined with adaptability which won him the admiration and affection of his teams. So rare a combination of qualities was certainly to stand him in good stead when in 1965 he accepted appointment as first Chairman of the University Grants Committee, from 1972 the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee.

This was a forbidding challenge. After the War the University of Hong Kong was beset with almost insuperable problems, the chief of which was unquestionably finance. Our endowment funds in China had disappeared and it was left to the British and Hong Kong Governments, themselves hard-pressed, to come to the rescue. We were also blessed with generous assistance from American foundations, from local firms, and individual benefactors. Even so, financial uncertainty dogged our steps, essential programmes were delayed, on occasion abandoned, and we lived from hand to mouth, from day to day. To men of discernment in both Government and the University it was manifest that this unsatisfactory situation must be remedied, that machinery must be established for the systematic financing of the Universities if development programmes were to be mounted and maintained. Thus the University Grants Committee.

The choice of Michael Herries as its Chairman was inspired. Apart from his experience and dedication, he had, and has, constantly stressed the urgency of increased educational facilities in Hong Kong. With eyes focused on the future, he has repeatedly insisted that leaders for the 1980s and 1990s must be afforded every opportunity to acquire technical skills and self-knowledge. Only a vital and responsive educational system could provide those men and women of quality to see us through the years to come.

To his task Mr Herries, from 1965 to 1973, bent all his energies. The sheer volume of the work involved was prodigious but, under his tireless and diplomatic chairmanship, it was coped with smoothly and expeditiously. Often he saw further and sooner than others and took his measures by anticipation accordingly. He impressed with his fairness, the speed with which he assimilated essentials, with his capacity for analysis, and with his ability in reaching firm conclusions. As the pilot of the UPGC he steered ‘twixt many a Scylla and Charybdis, brining his bark triumphantly to port. The transition to the Grants Committee system of financing the Universities had been surely encompassed, and a scarce remarked revolution in Hong Kong’s tertiary education accomplished.

Mr Chancellor, last year the Chinese University conferred upon Mr Young-Herries an honorary doctorate. To that cap may I now ask you to add another, by bestowing on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered byMr Hugh David Turner, BA, MLitt, the Public Orator of the University.

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