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William Whelehan, Anna Whelehan, Dr Rosemarie Hayhow, Norbert Lieckfeldt and Martin Whelehan at the Roberta Williams memorial lecture
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City hosts inaugural Roberta Williams Memorial Lecture

The event celebrated Roberta's incredible contribution to the School of Health Sciences and her work with students over the thirty-two years she was at City


City University London held the inaugural Roberta Williams Memorial Lecture last week.

The event celebrated Roberta's incredible contribution to the School of Health Sciences and her work with students over the thirty-two years she was at City. Roberta sadly passed away in May 2015 shortly after her retirement and this lecture is the first of an annual series to be held in her memory.

The lecture featured a keynote from Dr Rosemarie Hayhow, an Honorary Researcher at the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit, which focused on her speech and language research and clinical work as well as other work in the area. Norbert Lieckfeldt, Chief Executive of the British Stammering Association, also spoke about Roberta and her impact on the field of stammering.

Dr Hayhow said: “In the lecture I reflected on some of the research and researchers who have had a major impact on my work and development over the years. I also looked to the future with some thoughts and ideas regarding future research.”

Dr Hayhow has over 40 years of clinical, teaching and research experience in the field of stammering. She completed a Masters in Human Communication in 1975 and gained a Diploma in Personal Construct Psychology in 1988. Before moving to Bristol in 1995 she taught on SLT courses in London and Cardiff.  A full-time clinical post in Bristol highlighted gaps in expertise with children which led to the Lidcombe Program.

“I started working with adults who stammer at the City Lit (London) in 1971. It was the beginning of a long journey that has incorporated lecturing to under and post graduates, further study, research and full-time clinical work with adults and children.  I am now retired but continue with an honorary research contract with the North Bristol NHS Trust to support any further work I do with the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit. I also see a few clients on a private basis, continue to participate in our local Clinical Excellence Network and am one of the British Stammering Association's long-term advisors,” said Dr Hayhow.

Qualifying at a similar time, Roberta became a Speech and Language Therapist in 1974, working for the National Health Service initially in Newham and then in Lewisham. Roberta’s area of specialist clinical expertise was dysfluency (stammering and stuttering) and she continued to support clinical work and teach in this area up until her retirement.

Roberta joined City in 1982, as a Lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Sciences and was Director of The Compass Centre, the on-site clinic between 2003 and 2008. Roberta was on the Management Board of The Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), which continues to be an excellent resource for healthcare education.

Speaking about Roberta, Dr Hayhow said: “I got to know Berta in the later 70s/early 80s and we kept in touch, to varying degrees, until her untimely death last year. I always enjoyed seeing her and if I was staying with her we'd talk and laugh too long and too late.”

Roberta was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2003 and continued to undertake key strategic roles in the department. In 2009 Roberta became Associate Dean for Education, Quality and the Student Experience, a role she both excelled in and enjoyed immensely.

Speaking about Roberta, Norbert Lieckfeldt said: “Berta wasn't one of the Big Research Names, not one who attracted huge research grants. Berta was someone far more important. She was a patient builder, and someone who spent decades laying solid foundations - someone without whom none of the work in stammering, and for adults and children who stammer, could exist.

“A young man who once attended City‘s summer school for children who stammer wrote to me when he heard the news saying "I had the best time of my life there meeting people that stammer and making friends for life". Her legacy is assured.”

More recently The Compass Centre was reopened in Northampton Square and renamed as The Roberta Williams Centre, ensuring that people with speech and language disorders will receive the latest intervention services. As a result, Roberta’s contribution will never be forgotten.

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