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Lord Woolf Awarded Companion of Honour in Queen's Birthday Honours

16 June 2015

Lord Woolf and Dr Kessler

Lord Woolf, Patron of the Woolf Institute, is a man who has devoted his life to the improvement of British society and to the maintenance of its highest values.

I first met Harry in 1996, when I was undertaking a PhD at the University of Cambridge. I told him about my vision to establish a Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations and to harness the best of scholarship for the service of interfaith understanding. I explained that I was seeking a Jewish and a Christian Patron. At the time, he was Master of the Rolls but immediately offered his personal encouragement and support. The Duke of Devonshire joined him.

Harry told me that he was keenly aware of the need for interfaith understanding and tolerance and very conscious of the overwhelming importance of education. For that reason he has supported the Centre from its conception, through to the present day, when it became the Woolf Institute.

In 1998, the Centre for the Study of Jewish Christian Relations was founded and has since then broken ground in Jewish-Christian relations. From field-defining publications, to historic meetings of major religious leaders and from charity cycle rides across deserts to the first University of Cambridge Master of Studies (MSt) Degree in the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations. Harry was asource of encouragement and wisdom. There were numerous occasions when I turned to him for advice and he would respond promptly and help.

In 2005 we added the encounter with Islam to our educational remit, and expanded our Publication Education Programmes. The name of the organisation changed and became known as the Woolf Institute, after Lord Woolf.

Since then, the Institute has grown from strength to strength and much of its success is due to the kindness of Harry and a willingness to give of his own time and energy. For example, through his introduction and personal connections in Qatar, the Woolf Institute and the Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID) entered into an agreement for academic cooperation in 2011 to enhance interfaith dialogue. The Memorandum of Understanding included an annual high profile lecture, which in 2011 was delivered by Lord Woolf in Doha on the theme of 'The Rule of Law and Interfaith Dialogue'. 

Lord Woolf continues to remain actively involved and I hope that his contribution will continue for many years to come.  For example, in 2013, in his 80th year, he helped strengthen the relationship with Qatar and consequently, in the presence of the Princess Royal, the State of Qatar made a gift of £1m to the Woolf Institute's Capital Appeal that April.  In 2014, the Vice-President of the Arab Parliament, Dr Aisha Yousef Al-Mannai, accepted an invitation from Lord Woolf to lecture in Cambridge. As the Institute looks to the future when we hope to move into a new purpose-built facility at Westminster College, Lord Woolf will continue to be a guide and support.

There is much more that I could say about Harry's contribution to the success of the Woolf Institute but in essence, none of this would have been possible without him. In sum, Lord Woolf helped turn an idea into reality and the award of Companion of Honour is a public acknowledgement that he truly deserves.

Dr Edward Kessler MBE, June 2015.

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