Inspirational Essex alumni celebrated in King Birthday Honours

  • Date

    Mon 19 Jun 23

Tim Whitley and Ben Okri

Outstanding Essex alumni were recognised in the King's Birthday Honours List including celebrated novelist Ben Okri and Professor Tim Whitley from telecommunications giant BT.

Essex alumni on the honours list included:  

  • Ben Okri (Comparative Literature student and Honorary Graduate in 2002), who was awarded a Knighthood for services to Literature.
  • Charlotte Heyes (BA Art History and MA Gallery Studies), who was awarded an OBE for services to International Trade. She was Chief Negotiator and Deputy Director, Department for Business and Trade.
  • Gavin McKinnon (LLB Law), who was awarded an OBE for services to Policing. He is Chief Officer at Kent Special Constabulary.
  • Professor Tim Whitley (PhD Electronic Engineering), who was awarded an OBE for services to Communications Technologies and Scientific Policy. He is Managing Director of Applied Research at BT.
  • Professor Bencie Woll (MA Linguistics), who was awarded a MBE for services to Higher Education and Deaf People. Professor of Sign Language, UCL

Sir Ben Okri studied Comparative Literature at Essex in the 1980s and then went on to establish an international reputation as an influential poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, anthologist, aphorist, and playwright. His works have won numerous national and international prizes, including the Booker Prize for Fiction.

In a statement he emphasised that society needed to do more to respond to the global environmental crisis. Sir Ben said: "I’m delighted to be given this honour. I think of the illustrious writers who have preceded me and the gifted writers to come.

“The writer does not write for honours but for truth, the mysterious truth of the human condition. For me the main value of this honour at this moment is necessity to remind my fellow human beings that we are living on the cusp of a world wide environmental crisis.

“If we don’t do something radical about it now, within ten years nothing will be the same. Art is a reminder that the human destiny has to go upwards. This is the moment to reverse our backward thinking and create a new future.

“If being honoured means anything it means helping the human race to be better, more civilised, more beautiful.”

Professor Whitley, who has maintained close links with the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, said: “I am delighted and humbled to accept this honour as a reflection of the way in which UK scientific research in collaboration with Industrial Applied research has helped shape the telecommunications technology that underpins so much of our modern connected world. I would like to thank all of my colleagues at BT Group and the many academic researchers we work with for their tireless efforts, to ensure that as scientists and engineers we deliver the telecommunications technologies that not only underpin our nations’ economy but also play such a fundamental role in the fabric of people’s lives.”

Chief Officer of Kent Special Constabulary, Gavin McKinnon, said: "In 2014 we became the first Special Constabulary in the UK to receive the highest national honour for volunteering, The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is a collective MBE. That recognition was for our ‘innovative, community focused, volunteer policing’.

"We have continued to deliver exactly that, so I view this OBE as a higher collective award for the exceptional team of Specials I have the privilege to lead.‘Policing is a team effort, not an individual one and I am blessed with the support of some of the most decent, honourable, and committed people you could ever hope to meet. In Kent volunteer does not mean amateur."

Professor Bencie Woll was awarded an MBE for services to Higher Education and Deaf People. Professor Woll has pioneered research over the last forty years on the linguistics of British Sign Language and deaf studies, initially as the UK’s first Professor of Sign Language and Deaf Studies and most recently through founding and leading UCL’s Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre. The Centre’s work to examine language, cognition, and the brain from the unique perspective of deafness and deaf communication has led to discoveries about language and cognition that could not have been achieved working with hearing people alone.

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