Jamaican Appointed New Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland
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Jamaican Appointed New Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland

Jamaican Appointed New Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, Jamaica’s Honorary Consul to Scotland and an internationally known scientist and human rights activist, has been named to serve as the new Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He will be officially inaugurated at a ceremony held during the bicentennial festivities honoring the University in October of 2021. In his new role, Sir Geoff will have a central part in promoting the University’s international reputation in pioneering research and education across its campuses in Scotland, Malaysia, and Dubai.

Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Seth George Ramocan, said Sir Geoff’s appointment was a “proud moment” for Jamaicans around the world, noting that Sir Geoff made history in 1989 when he became the first Black professor in Scotland. Ramocan added that the professor continues to be a strong supporter of Jamaica and the Diaspora, as well as a “tireless advocate for human rights.” Sir Geoff represents academic excellence and his research exploring the links between Scotland and the Caribbean is highly regarded and well known.

Sir Geoff earned a PhD in grain science and technology in 1967, then went on to have a successful career in research with the Brewing Industry Research Foundation in Surrey, where he invented the barley abrasion process. In 1977, he went to work at Heriot-Watt University, where he remained until he retired in 2005. After retiring, he received the academic title of Professor Emeritus. In 2014, he was knighted for his work in human rights, science, and charity. The Jamaican government appointed him as the nation’s first Honorary Consul in Scotland in 2014. He was presented with Jamaica’s national honor, the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) in 2020, in recognition of his many contributions to the Jamaican Diaspora.

Palmer was born in 1940 in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. He grew up in Kingston under the care of his eight aunts after his mother moved to England for work as a dressmaker in 1948 as part of the Windrush Generation. He joined his mother in London in 1955 just before turning 15. He was sent to Shelbourne Road Secondary Modern school where his skills in cricket won him a place on the London Schools’ cricket team and a place at a Highbury Grammar School. He left school in 1958 with six 0-levels and two A-levels in botany and zoology. Palmer then worked as junior lab technician at Queen Elizabeth College at London University. He entered the University of Leicester in 1961 and earned a botany degree in 1964. He then applied to study for an Msc at the University of Nottingham, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture.

He worked at the Brewing Research Foundation from 1968 to 1998, where he discovered the barley abrasion process, which involves turning barley into malt, and in 1998, he became only the fourth person – and the first European – to received the Award of Distinction from the American Society of Brewing Chemists. This award is widely considered the “Nobel Prize of brewing.”

Upon receiving his new appointment as Chancellor, Palmer told the Edinburgh Reporter newspaper that becoming the Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, an institution that he knows well, is a position that he accepts with “honor and humility.” He said he is proud that it has continued to focus on keeping its doors open to everyone as a “truly international university.” He said he looks forward to promoting and enhancing its reputation as a source of world-class education and a leader in innovative research.

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Stephanie Korney