Tribute: Professor Sir Peter Gregson FREng

Tributes have been paid to Professor Sir Peter Gregson FREng, former Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, who has died suddenly at home aged 66.

Sir Peter joined Cranfield in 2013, leading the University for eight years with a focus on growth and deepening partnerships with industry and government. His tenure included significant developments on campus, including the opening of the Aerospace Integration Research Centre, the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre, the construction of new accommodation and the relocation of the Cranfield Forensic Institute to a new purpose-built facility.

During his time, Cranfield University was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize, the highest national honour in education, on three consecutive occasions.

An inspiring leader and great servant to higher education

Barbara Young, Baroness Young of Old Scone, was Chancellor of Cranfield University from 2010-2020, and said: “It was a great joy to work with Peter as Vice-Chancellor at Cranfield.  His vision and energy were transformative, and we could feel the whole Cranfield family working together, creating highly effective external partnerships, feeling justly proud of their University. The Cranfield site was transformed too, and our reputation worldwide grew. Thank you, Peter.”

Dame Deirdre Hutton, who was Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University Council from 2012 to 2019, and who is currently Chancellor of Cranfield University, paid tribute to Sir Peter: “It was an honour to serve as Chair of the Council whilst Peter was leading the University. He drove transformational change and under his stewardship, the Cranfield University community was empowered to create a core set of values which still endure today. Peter had a talent for bringing out the best in our staff, students and alumni – he made a huge contribution to Cranfield.”

Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing commented on Sir Peter’s legacy: “One of Peter’s driving personal beliefs was in the power of partnerships between academia, business, and government, and he was proud of Cranfield’s reputation as the university ‘close to Business’. Peter took great satisfaction in seeing the ideas of our students come to life through industry partnerships and bringing a real impact to society. As a person he had a huge personal warmth and enthusiasm and was able to relate to people from all walks of life.

“He was an empathetic and influential leader and forged many collaborations that had a positive impact, extending Cranfield’s global reach and bringing huge benefits to our region. As well as excelling in his academic field, he was a great servant to higher education and will be greatly missed.”

Highly respected contribution to his field

Before leading Cranfield University, Sir Peter was President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast (2004-2013), taking that role after a 20-year career at the University of Southampton. A highly respected aerospace materials engineer, Sir Peter was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2001 and became a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2007. Sir Peter was awarded a Knighthood for services to higher education in 2011.

He served many industry and academic groups including a position on the Council of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and involvement in the Northern Ireland Economic Development Forum and the Council of CBI Northern Ireland. Sir Peter was appointed Chair of the Henry Royce Institute in December 2021.

Sir Peter’s charitable interests included roles as Honorary Vice-President of the Spitfire AA810 Project, a Trustee of Lloyd’s Register Foundation and a Trustee at The Royal Anniversary Trust.

A true friend to Cranfield

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University said: “All of us are very shocked and saddened by this tragic news. Sir Peter was a true friend to Cranfield and a passionate advocate for engineering skills and higher education. Even when he retired, he continued to be actively engaged in the sector, chairing the Royce Institute, and making an ongoing contribution to the field of materials research.

“Our deepest heartfelt sympathies go out to Sir Peter’s wife, Rachael and their daughters Ellie, Maria and Chrissie.”

Service of Thanksgiving

A Service of Thanksgiving for Professor Sir Peter Gregson will be held on Friday 3 May, 2pm at Romsey Abbey, near Southampton, to which his family invites everyone who knew him.

If you would like to join the celebration of Peter’s life and legacy, his family asks that you fill out this short form so that they can gauge expected numbers.

Donations if desired for The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Air Ambulance or Endometriosis UK may be given via www.ahcheater.co.uk or sent c/o A H Cheater Funeral Director, 122 The Hundred, Romsey, SO51 8BY.