Citations and Speeches


127th Congregation (1986)

The Rt Hon the Lord Alexander Robertus TODD of Trumpington
O.M., Hon.LL.D., Hon.D.Sc., HoN.D. Litt., Hon.ScD., Hon. Dr.RERNat., Hon.D.Met., M.A., DSc., D.Phil., DrPhil., F.R.S.C., Hon.FIMechE., P.P.R.S.

The Public Orator Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, M.A., D.PHIL., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Lord Todd of Trumpington, Mr. Chancellor, already holds more than thirty honorary degrees from Universities throughout the world. He is an honorary member of more than twenty learned societies. He is the holder of more than ten distinguished medals and decorations. He is a former President of the Royal Society, a former Chairman of the British Government’s Advisory Committee on Scientific Policy, former Chairman of the Trustees of the Nuffield Foundation, former Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, former Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and is the Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde. He obtained the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1957. In addition, Mr. Chancellor, he is the only living man I know of to have a pub named after him.

We cannot add to this man’s fame, and however inadequate my own words may be, they cannot diminish his accomplishments. Yet, as you will see, we do have a special reason for offering him this further honour.

Before coming to this special reason, I turn briefly to Alex Todd’s life and work.

He was born in 1907 in Glasgow. His mother and father believed passionately in the value of education, and this influence left its mark on Alexander Todd.

He attended Allen Glen’s School, and entered the University of Glasgow in 1924. After graduating in 1928, he pursued postgraduate work at the Universities of Glasgow and Frankfurt. Subsequent work took him to the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, London, and to the Californian Institute of Technology. He took up the Sir Samuel Hall Chair of Chemistry at the University of Manchester in 1938, and the Chair of Organic Chemistry in Cambridge in 1944.

His distinguished career is marked above all by three things: first, by a fine scientific mind at work; second, by a forthright and determined temperament in the best Scottish tradition; and third, by an informed concern for the wider public importance of scientific policy and scientific education.

It is hard, Mr. Chancellor, to describe for laymen, among whom I must include myself, the depth and importance of Alexander Todd’s scientific work.

It started in about 1915, when the young boy was given a Home Chemistry set. His early efforts included an attempt to prepare nitroglycerol. We must be glad, Mr. Chancellor, that his scientific work was not crowned with success from its first moments, since had the young Todd succeeded in making this violently explosive substance, his career would, no doubt, have been rather short.

His interests have ranged widely, but the heart of his achievement has been a series of major contributions to our knowledge of the chemistry of vitamins, nucleosides, nucleotides, coenzymes, and nucleic acids, substances fundamental to living organisms.

Todd started work in this area in 1938, and was already of the view that nucleic acids might be responsible for the transmission of hereditary characteristics. At that time, work on these substances was daunting, since they were so hard to isolate; it was difficult even tom develop good criteria for purity. The existence of the two types of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid (RNA), and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), was known. And it was clear that they were somehow made up of nucleotides, substances whose structure and stereochemistry Todd himself played an important part in establishing. Unfortunately, a view became prevalent according to which these acids were not genuine large molecules, but rather aggregates of nucleotides. From 1946, Todd and his fellow researchers began to work in this area, distrusting the orthodox view. In 1951, he and D.M. Brown were able to put before the 75th Anniversary meeting of the American Chemical Society definitive structures for DNA and RNA.

It was this work which made it possible for Watson and Crick to put forward the claim that the physical conformation of DNA was a double helix. So it was that Todd contributed, not only to a major advance in our understanding of a fundamental area of organic chemistry, but also to a further decisive advance in our understanding of heredity.

But let us turn from this exciting story of advance on the frontiers of science to a scene in Hong Kong in the early years of the century, where we see the beginnings of another advance on the frontiers of finance. Sir Paul Chater goes at lunch time to his brokers, to place a buying order for some shares. But only a young clerk is there to receive him. The clerk tells him that he would do well not to buy those shares, but rather make a different investment. The clerk’s advice proved good, and Sir Paul Chater was impressed.

This perhaps legendary, but probably true story marks the beginning of the extraordinary stock broking career of that young clerk. His name was Noel Croucher, and he was to become famous for his astute investments. In his day, he was described as the eminence grise of Hong Kong Finance.

Noel Croucher had a reputation in his later life as a recluse, and even a reputation for meanness. Yet his actions already belied this. The few who knew him were aware of his penchant for giving anonymous and generous help to those in need. Late in his life, these proclivities crystallized into a desire to establish a charitable foundation, but he was uncertain how to set about this, and dissatisfied with the suggestions of the first people whose advice he sought.

It was his friend Lady Ride, who suggested, in 1978, that he could not do better than turn to her friend, Alexander Todd.

As a result, Lord Todd was approached, and came to a meeting with Noel Croucher about the project in January 1979. Lord Todd’s direct and authoritative manner, his experience as Chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, and his distinction as a scientist, immediately appealed to Noel Croucher. On the other side, the opportunity of helping to establish a wealthy Foundation for the benefit of Hong Kong at once appealed to Lord Todd, whose contacts with the territory went back some 20 years. Before the end of the year, a Trust Deed establishing the Croucher Foundation had been drawn up and signed.

The sums of money involved were substantial – being initially estimated at approximately 20m pounds sterling. Unfortunately, shortly after the Foundation was established, the 89 year old donor, and Chairman of the new Foundation, set off for his office one day in the pouring rain. He went to catch the number 15 bus in Stubbs Road; by the time he got to his destination he was soaking wet. He felt bad, went to visit his doctor, and died there.

It was therefore left to Lord Todd, as new Chairman, in collaboration with his fellow trustees, to get the Croucher Foundation under way. The aim was to pursue the interests of the donor in promoting education and research in the natural sciences and in medicine in Hong Kong.

As a result, in the six years since the foundation has been established, three main areas of activity have been funded. In the first place, 86 students from Hong Kong have been awarded scholarships enabling them to pursue further studies in overseas universities (as well as another 46 who have received support for further study in local institutions). Secondly, some 60 research projects in science and medicine have been funded. And third, funds have been provided to the main tertiary institutions in Hong Kong to give help to students in need. The Foundations policy has been to adopt the highest standards of vetting proposals put before it, so that receiving a Croucher award should already be a mark of distinction. Disbursements to date amount to some $37m.

Thus Lord Todd was involved with the Croucher Foundation, from the time when it was only an idea in Noel Croucher’s mind. It is above all as a result of his role, first as adviser, then as Vice-Chairman, and finally as Chairman, that its fine objectives, objectives of which Noel Croucher as a young clerk advising Sir Paul Chater could hardly have conceived, but which in his later days he held dear, are being well achieved, in a way which must be for the great benefit of Hong Kong.

Mr. Chancellor, for his services to the development of further education and scientific research in Hong Kong, I present to you the Right Honourable the Lord Alexander Robertus Todd of Trumpington, Order of Merit, Honorary Doctor of Laws, Honorary Doctor of Science, Honorary Doctor of Letters, Honorary Doctor of Metallurgy, Master of Arts, Doctor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Fellow of the Royal Society, pioneering scientist, educator, talented linguist, avowed elitist with regard to University education, yet strong advocate of varied educational opportunities for all, champion of the public importance of science policy, forthright Scot, for the award of degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.