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Muriel Hirst: a tribute

Muriel Hirst

The University would like to pay tribute to one of its longest serving supporters, who sadly passed away last month.

Muriel Hirst MBE was associated with the University of Reading for more than 40 years, firstly as a secretary in the Department of Cybernetics, and subsequently as wife of the late Wallace Hirst, a Professor in Engineering. Together they initiated an annual scholarship enabling students from the developing world to study for a Master’s degree in either agriculture and international development or in renewable energy. Mrs Hirst developed the Wallace and Muriel Hirst Scholarship following the death of her husband in 1997, and in 2010 endowed the fund permanently to ensure a full scholarship and stipend will be available to future generations.

To date, the University has welcomed more than twenty scholars from countries including the Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Many have taken senior roles in their countries, including at ministries of agriculture and national agricultural research institutes; as directors of solar energy companies; and in higher education. Others have worked with the UN and the World Bank on projects advancing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Mrs Hirst was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2013 for services to the University of Reading.

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, said: "Our deepest condolences go to the family of Muriel Hirst, who was an important figure in the University of Reading’s 90 year history. As one of our most generous donors, she had an enormous impact on the success of the University and on the lives of students who have received the Hirst scholarship.

“The donations from Muriel Hirst, and her late husband, have enabled students from developing countries with disadvantaged backgrounds to study here in the UK and go on to do great things. Muriel Hirst was still very involved in University life and she will be sorely missed.”

Many academics and recipients of the Hirst Scholarship have paid their respects to Mrs Hirst, and credited her with transforming their lives:

Putso Nyathi, Hirst Scholar and Southern Africa Conservation Agriculture Coordinator at Millennium Challenge Corporation: “I appreciate and will continue to do so, the opportunity she (and her husband) afforded me to study at the University of Reading. I have never been the same since graduating from the institute.”

Isaac Mwathi, Hirst Scholar: “I am deeply saddened by the news of the loss of Mrs Muriel Hirst. I was one of the recipients of the Hirst Scholarship at the University of Reading and am grateful for the support and the opportunity the scholarship gave to me. Mrs Hirst will always be part of me for the great role she played in my life.”

Dr Maria Vahdati, academic in the School of the Built Environment: “Mrs Hirst was always tremendously kind and incredibly thoughtful. She made a big difference to the lives of many in the poorest parts of the world directly and indirectly through the scholarship.  She took tremendous interest in the work of her scholars and had great knowledge of the world.” 

In 2014, Muriel Hirst, along with her late husband, was inducted into the University of Reading College of Benefactors. The College of Benefactors was established in 2014 to recognise those donors who have made the most significant contribution to the University through their support. Induction into the College is the highest honour that the University can bestow upon its donors and its members have all made outstanding gifts to the institution.

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