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Lesley Davis-Dawson, MGC 1959 Leaver

Malvern Alumnae 100 Lesley Rees

After graduating with distinction from St. Bartholomew's in 1965, Dame Lesley embarked upon co-founding a world-renowned Centre for Clinical Endocrinology and has won numerous awards for research. She was the first Secretary-General of the International Society for Endocrinology to be elected from outside the United States, and in 1980 she was one of the youngest Fellows to be admitted to the Royal College of Physicians. She became Dean of St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College (Bart’s) from 1989-95, the first and only woman to hold the post. Dame Lesley led the College to a successful merger with the London Hospital Medical College as part of Queen Mary University of London in 1995.

I had a happy time at MGC. I remember well Miss Jones, the Housemistress at Mount who was a wonderful woman and had a huge influence on me. She came straight to the point, didn’t mess around, and was instrumental in me achieving a place at medical school at a time when it was unusual for women.

This reflected the ethos at MGC as a whole. We were expected to get on with things, to do the best we could. There was no air of pomposity; it was a well-grounded school, straightforward and honest. There seemed to be an almost unwritten rule about standards and expectations, and we knew not to fall below them.

After the early death of my father, and then step-father, I was sponsored through my education (MGC and Medical School) by the RAF Benevolent Fund and by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, which I’m still grateful for. As soon as I graduated, I requested that the payments stop. I knew that I could and should pay my own way from now on. That’s the sort of attitude that MGC instilled in us.

Important to me through my career was doing what I thought was intrinsically the right thing. Sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made, and you can’t expect others to make them for you. I was in that position when I was the spokesperson and public face for London University during the merger of Bart’s and the London Medical School – I was expected to tow the line on some decisions I didn’t agree with. In the end, I tended my resignation; which, it turned out, was not entirely unexpected by my seniors; and I think there was an element of respect that I had acted on my principles. My resignation wasn’t accepted, and I was able to steer a successful merger with no closures. Bart’s and the London Medical School continue to be excellent institutions. Looking back, the decision was definitely the right one.  

I still keep in touch with MGC friends. I have fond memories of Drama Society, which I headed and loved. And of course, I loved exhilarating walks on the Malvern hills. It is such a beautiful place.

Wasn’t I lucky.

What does success look like?

Success can take many shapes – sometimes it’s just a good feeling, and sometimes it’s a question: how did I get here? Certainly, if I look at my career, I never set out to be a professor, the head of a medical school, a Dame or whatever; I just took the opportunities when they appeared.

What’s your best piece of advice?

Have the courage of your convictions: sometimes you don’t know what the consequences will be, but go with your gut.

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