The alumnus who pointed Sharon White and Sonita Alleyne in the direction of Fitzwilliam takes none of the credit for the pair’s stratospheric rise.
Sonita (Philosophy 1985) will begin her role as Jesus College Master on 1 October, while Sharon (Economics 1985) will swap her position as chief executive of communications regulator Ofcom to be executive chairman of the John Lewis Partnership in early 2020.
Both friends were taught by Gerald O’Connell (Economics 1970) at Leyton Senior High School for Girls, which later became Leytonstone School, before furthering their education at the University of Cambridge.
“I’m delighted they’ve both had really successful careers,” Gerald said.
“It doesn’t give me any sense of pride – I’m just thrilled for them. I’m just absolutely delighted for them as friends.”
Gerald identified the potential of Sonita and Sharon and encouraged them to be ambitious.
He was always available for support and is still in touch with both women.
He added: “They were comforted by the fact they were applying to a college I had attended and I did say if they encountered any difficulties or any problems they had my phone number.
“My interest in them, and backing, didn’t stop when they left school and I stopped teaching, which happened at around the same time.”
Gerald had aspired for and achieved a University of Cambridge degree and has lived a varied life and is currently an artist and blogger on political economy and current affairs. His blog can be read at http://oconnellomics.com.
He added: “I was a working class boy from the east end of London and I wanted the badge. I wanted the Cambridge economics degree just to equalise a bit in life.”