Baroness Lawrence : There’s no halo, just say hello

My name is Rob Neil and I am a long serving, some might say long suffering, civil servant. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of my career [to date] and met some fantastic people along the way. This article features one of those people whom I am honoured to call my friend.

DMU TEF celebration London Science Museum
After yet another unprecedented night [and early morning] of political swings and roundabouts, I find myself at the Peers Entrance to the House’s of Parliament. As I engage security, I’m feeling a tad nervous but prepared to interview my favourite Baroness whom I had first met ten years earlier in 2009 when I was working at the Ministry of Justice.

Doreen Delceita Lawrence was born on 24 October 1952 and her full title is Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE. Now, this Baroness is a British Jamaican campaigner and, perhaps, best known as the mother of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in South East London in 1993. Doreen, as she is known to family and friends, promoted reforms of the police service and founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. She was awarded an OBE for “services to community relations” in 2003 and created a Life Peer in 2013. In January 2016, Doreen was appointed Chancellor of De Montfort University, Leicester.

After a short wait in the foyer, I am greeted by a smiling and serene Doreen who has arrived bang on time for our scheduled interview. We make our way to a rather grand and ornately decorated hall just outside the entrance to the Lords chamber, alas no picture taking is allowed once inside the building [sorry]. We both take a few moments to settle and Doreen has a quick glance at a TV monitor fixed to the wall behind me which details current activity being conducted in the Chamber. Doreen nods quietly to confirm that we are good to go and I start by thanking her for agreeing to be interviewed, commending her on how fantastic she looks, especially given the late night [Doreen and fellow members of the Lords were at work until 1.30am that morning!!!] and forewarning her that some of my questions might be tricky.

So, here are a few of the questions and answers we shared…

What was your dream job growing up?
Nurse. I’ve always wanted to care for others ever since I was a little girl.

Which living person do you most admire?
President Barack Obama. His plan was a bold one and what he tried to achieve e.g. Obamacare, was inspirational and full of hope.

What superpower would you like to have?
I’m not sure, but I’d like for it to result in MORE people listening to and hearing from young people.

Who is your dream dinner party guest?
Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and the wonderful Aretha Franklin.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I’m told that I sometimes come across as stern and quite strict. I don’t mean to be and I rarely feel that way BUT I’m told that my face does convey that (sometimes).

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Dishonesty. I’d rather not ask you a question than listen to a lie.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
Ooooh, I’m not sure I can tell you that :-)

What is your greatest extravagance?
I once found myself in a jewellery shop in Jamaica and… well, let’s just say I bought far too much!

What objects do you always carry with you?
Two mobile phones [don’t ask], my bracelet and lovely watch I got as a gift for my 60th Birthday which I never have to worry about winding up, it’s automatic.

What is your favourite word/phrase?
Me one and GOD.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
False hope, quickly followed by false sacrifice.

What are you reading/listening to at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama [a fantastic book]. I’m ready for my next holiday… which is when I relax and read.

What is your favourite movie?
I’m not sure I have a favourite movie, but I did find ‘The Hate U Give’ compelling and authentic. A real reminder that life is precious and that we should never take what we have for granted.

Can you list five songs/tracks you listen to regularly?
Redemption Song [Marley], The Israelites [Dekker], R.E.S.P.E.C.T and Say a Little Prayer [Franklin]….oh and right now it’s George Ezra’s Shotgun.

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who listened to young people and tried my very best to hear [and act on] what they were saying.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That life is for living and that we can all support each other in living our best life. That is what I hope the legacy of Stephen’s Day [22nd April] will be for generations to come.

As my questions draw to a close Doreen reflects on her recent visit to Salt Lake City in Utah, USA where she was able to talk about her ongoing work in support of Stephen Lawrence Day on 22nd April. Doreen’s ambition is to grow Stephen’s legacy internationally and ensure that more and more young people around the world are living their best life.

Doreen rejects the notion of any halo above her head, she says “we can all respect each others space whilst still finding the time to say hello.”

Accessible, hard working and a true believer in community, now that’s my favourite kinda’ Baroness!!!

SOME MILESTONES WORTH SHARING

  • On 27 July 2012, Lawrence took part in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, holding the Olympic flag with seven others.
  • In April 2014, she was named as Britain’s most influential woman in the BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Power List 2014.
  • Doreen was elevated to the peerage as a Baroness on 6 September 2013, and is formally styled Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, of Clarendon in the Commonwealth Realm of Jamaica; the honour is rare for being designated after a location in a Commonwealth realm outside the United Kingdom. She sits on the Labour benches in the House of Lords as a working peer.
  • Doreen has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Cambridge, the Open University and the University of West London, and became Chancellor of De Montfort University in Leicester in 2016.
  • Doreen’s autobiography ‘And still I rise – seeking justice for Stephen’ was published by Faber & Faber in 2006.

Rob Neil
Rob was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2018 New Years Honours List for ‘Services to Race Equality across the civil service and in the community’. Rob currently works at the Department for Education as Head of Embedding Culture Change.

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