Sheila enjoyed a fascinating career as a consultant surgeon caring for people with cancers of the Head and Neck. As the first woman to undertake the full surgical training in this discipline she, from being a shy and retiring teenager, became accustomed to being the sole female presence in gatherings of successful men! A particular joy was the years spent as a member of the Court of Examiners for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 2000, she moved to a 50-50 NHS/Academic post, taking the chance to make research a priority. This focused on patient experience of cancer therapy, which led to her PhD.
In recent years she has enjoyed working closely with patients and carers as Associate Director for Patient and Public Involvement at the National Cancer Research Institute. Having reached a ‘certain age’ last year and expecting to retire, she was surprised and delighted to be asked by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority to Chair the Committee on Safety of Devices through a period of transition as the Agency looks to build up its expertise in the innovative technologies which can transform peoples’ lives. She also became Chair of one of the Health Research Agency National Research Ethics Committees.
Beyond work, her greatest joy has been her two sons and watching them grow from childhood into assured young men. She has always loved hill-walking, at home and abroad, and now combines this with fundraising, having walked the Great Wall of China and the Inca Trail with a trekking team from the Yorkshire Cancer Centre. This year, she completed part of the Annapurna region to support the charity Classrooms in the Clouds, which seeks to bring education to children in remote areas of Nepal. She is still a student currently undertaking, ‘for fun’, a Master’s level course in Biblical Interpretation!
What is your connection to Bolton School?
I gained a County Scholarship (a free place under the Direct Grant provisions) to Bolton School, at the age of 10, in 1963, leaving in 1970. Since 1984 it has been a pleasure and privilege to serve the School as a member of the Governing Body and to maintain contacts and friendships through the Old Girls’ Association.
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
Too many to count but an abiding one has to be, as a member of the Choir, singing ‘Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar’ in the beautiful setting of the Great Hall, watched over by Mrs Shuttleworth’s wonderfully crafted angels.
What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
Beyond all the ability to believe in myself and to have confidence in what I can do linked to a will to do something positive, for others as well as myself. Also the love of learning, throughout life. I definitely rate the title ‘perpetual student’ in terms of formal and experiential learning.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
Follow your instincts and seek what is right for you. Enjoy the good in all parts of life; work, family and play. Never forget that whilst life will challenge you and there will be bad moments, to take time to sit back and enjoy the fun and the good times.
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
Without my Scholarship I could not have come to Bolton School. I then became the first member of my family to go to University. I have always believed that those who can benefit from the School’s ethos of learning and growing towards adult life in a nurturing and caring setting should not be prevented from coming to our school solely on financial grounds. All of us who benefited from State funding need to take the chance to say ‘thank you’ and all of us can take a moment to think what a Bolton School education meant to us and what it means to a child now.