Obituary: Professor Dame Teresa (Terry) Rees FLSW FAcSS

A picture of Professor Dame Teresa (Terry) Rees FLSW FAcSS

Her colleagues celebrate the memory of Professor Dame Terry Rees, who led on pioneering research promoting gender equality.

“Do what makes your eyes shine.”  This was often Terry’s advice when people in academia, equality organisations or government sought her wise counsel. She meant research, or work on whatever you are passionate about; that which fulfils you and has a real-world impact. 

As she noted, in her funny story about a discussion with the Queen at a tea party and claiming the subsequent change to rules of primogeniture in the monarchy as a win for gender mainstreaming, she had achieved impact – and before impact was even a thing in academia. Terry was part of that cohort of feminist academics from the 1970s onwards, who found a way to do research about women, with women, for women, while also building a stellar academic career. 

Terry’s knowledge of gender mainstreaming contributed to the unique equality duty to promote equality for all, contained in the legislation underpinning the Welsh devolution settlement. 

Terry’s early research career at Cardiff was focused on ground-breaking research on addressing inequalities in women’s education and training. She was an important part of the small team that developed an MSc in Women’s Studies in 1987 which ran for more than a decade. It was pioneering both in its content and its commitment to interdisciplinarity and genuine team teaching, which was both challenging and enjoyable for students and staff. It offered access to mature professionally qualified women without first degrees who used it to further their careers, in several cases joining the newly formed National Assembly for Wales (now Senedd) and helped to form Welsh networks committed to furthering equality.

Terry first became a Professor at the School for Advanced Urban Studies (latterly the School for Policy Studies) Bristol University. At Bristol, and at Cardiff from 2001, as Professor in the School for Social Sciences, she conducted pioneering feminist research on gender mainstreaming. Her work influenced policy making in the area of women and science, both within and across the European Union. 

She was one of the ‘seven wise women’ who assisted the European Commission (EC) to set out a communication on gender mainstreaming that required all EC bodies to address the difference that gender makes, to policy outcomes, when policy is made as if the world were gender neutral. This research work, particularly the ETAN report (2000, 2010) helped change the way that the EU and member states assess the quality of research. 

Terry’s knowledge of gender mainstreaming also contributed to the unique equality duty to promote equality for all, contained in the legislation underpinning the Welsh devolution settlement. 

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

She was the Wales Commissioner for the Equal Opportunities Commission (1996-2002). She was a member of the taskforce charged with setting up the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Terry was also a member of the National Equality Panel whose report, an Anatomy of Economic Inequality (2010), set out the rationale for public policy decisions to have ‘due regard’ to consider alleviating socio-economic inequalities.  

A Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, Terry also had a significant impact on policy and decision-making in Wales. She led two independent reviews on standards, access, and funding in Welsh higher education, and was most recently a co-author on one of Cardiff Business School’s highly rated impact case studies for REF2021 (Women Adding Value to the Economy – WAVE).

Terry played a prominent role in the leadership of Cardiff University, serving as Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for staff and students (2002-2006). In this role she initiated a new dignity at work policy for staff and students, to combat harassment and bullying, as well as instigated a series of positive changes to the academic promotions process. In 2006, she became the first woman to hold the role of PVC for Research at Cardiff University. 

Her career contribution has been recognised and celebrated through a series of honorary fellowships, including from the Academy of Social Sciences and Cardiff University, as well as honorary doctorates from universities across the world. She was awarded a CBE in 2002 for services to higher education and equal opportunities, and made Dame Commander in 2015 for services to Social Sciences. 

She will be remembered for her everyday demonstration of how to be a decent and kind human being and her generosity of spirit, innate care and empathy towards colleagues, students, and friends.  

In 2012, the year of her planned retirement, when she was looking forward to spending more time with her much-loved grandchildren, Terry agreed to stay on, part-time, to be the Principal Investigator for the Women Adding Value to the Economy (WAVE) project, in which collaborative work with employers achieved long-lasting impact on closing gender employment and pay disparities. Sadly, her involvement was cut short two years later by the diagnosis of a brain tumour. “A bit of bad news”, she said, as she gently broke the news to the research team, and then the staff in the School for Social Sciences (SOCSI). 

She took control of her illness by visiting Marie Curie Hospice in Penarth to ‘choose a spot’, as she put it, that would allow her to see Somerset from the window – the place where she grew up. To support others who might receive such a devastating diagnosis, she recorded a characteristically frank and humorous podcast, ‘My Cancer Journey”; for Velindre Cancer Centre. With grace and good humour, she lived bravely, with cancer, for a further nine years. 

It is cruel that the illness robbed her of the possibility of spending more time looking after her grandchildren and to write the planned memoir of her incredible academic and activist journey. Who can guess what reflections and words of wisdom, incisively delivered, evidence-based, and laced with humour we would have had? We have all lost her wisdom. 

But it is Terry’s modelling of collaborative and inclusive leadership and wisdom that will define her legacy – always available, yet offered with a quiet diffidence, skilfully and subtly leaving it to the recipient to make their own decisions. She will be remembered for her everyday demonstration of how to be a decent and kind human being and her generosity of spirit, innate care and empathy towards colleagues, students, and friends.  

You couldn’t be at any event in Wales, London, Brussels or indeed Sweden for more than five minutes with Terry, before someone would approach her to say ‘Terry, you might not remember me but … your advice … your suggestion … your introduction to … changed my life’. 

How many of us could come even close to saying the same about how we’ve lived our lives?

Our thoughts are with Terry’s family and friends but especially her beloved sons and grandchildren. 

Alison Parken, Barbara Adam, Caroline Joll, Chris Weedon, Gill Boden, Lindsey Williams 

A word from our director Auriol Miller

I only met Terry fairly recently, after I joined the IWA in 2016. She had been a longstanding and supportive member – since 1993 – and was clearly an eminent contributor to discussions and debates far more widely than just within the confines of her distinguished academic roles. 

Inevitably, and rather sadly, when someone dies you discover all sorts of things you wish you’d known about them far earlier and wish you’d had multiple opportunities for other conversations. However, the conversations that we did have were encouraging, warm and forensically clear-sighted about what mattered about the topic at hand.

We were both part of a group of about a dozen women leaders across different sectors who met informally every few months or so to share our respective professional challenges and opportunities and to support each other through often very public difficulties. Terry’s illness often prevented her from joining us, so it was special when she did. And I’m left with gratitude for even those few conversations we had, plus of course a renewed commitment to continue to press for gender equality, and to paying forward the quiet, strengthening support that she gave to so many women in leadership roles in all sorts of walks of life.

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Auriol Miller is Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

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