UCL News


In memory of Dr Lori Houlihan, former UCL Vice-Provost

19 April 2021

Members of UCL’s community around the world have come together to pay tribute to former Vice-Provost Dr Lori Houlihan, who has died after being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2019.

Dr Lori Houlihan, former UCL Vice-Provost

Lori joined UCL in January 2011 to lead what was then known as the Development and Alumni Relations Office, which became the Office of the Vice-Provost (Development) in 2016 when she was promoted to Vice-Provost.

In 2018, her portfolio expanded to include Communications and Marketing and UCL’s London Strategy, and she became Vice-Provost (Advancement). She retired due to ill health in March 2020, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of her “exceptional and dedicated service” to UCL in November 2020.

Lori is remembered for the energy, vision and sense of fun that she brought to everything she did, her commitment to students and staff, and her passionate belief in the importance of UCL’s work.

One of her crowning achievements at UCL was to devise and lead the It’s All Academic Campaign. Launched publicly in September 2016, the ambitious campaign aimed to raise £600m and 250,000 volunteering hours to support the university’s research and teaching, expand scholarships and other provision for students, and build up an engaged and involved global alumni community. The campaign was one of the biggest undertaken by a European university and hit its targets in 2020, one year ahead of schedule.

UCL’s most recent former President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur, who worked with Lori extensively during his time leading UCL, said: 

“Lori Houlihan was a truly outstanding member of the senior leadership team at UCL, who made an enormous contribution to our university community in so many different ways. She was the living embodiment of so much that UCL stands for and Lori lived those values for all to see. This not only endeared her to everyone that worked or studied at UCL, but also earned her great, and much warranted, respect.  Lori made sure that sense of belonging to the UCL community extended to our alumni, our honorary doctorates and fellows, and past members of staff. Her impact in this regard was truly global and it made a huge difference to the way in which UCL is now seen and regarded in the world."

Former Vice-Provost (International) Dame Nicola Brewer, who worked closely with Lori, added: “Lori was an amazing person – she had compassion, vision and courage, with the energy and commitment to put her values into practice. She had a warm and generous spirit, with a rare charm and capacity for friendship, which continued to shine through despite her illness.  Lori made a huge, positive difference to UCL not least through the Campaign, and she remained a very special member of the UCL community. The Honorary Doctorate she was awarded by UCL in 2020 reflected her unique contribution.”

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of UCL Brain Sciences and Pro-Vice-Provost (London), also worked with Lori throughout the It’s All Academic Campaign to develop its focus on neuroscience and dementia. He said: “It is so rare to find that combination of single-minded determination, focus and ability alongside an extraordinary zest for life, capacity for enjoyment and wicked sense of humour in a single individual. Lori embodied this winning, compelling and endearing combination which, for me, made working with her so very enjoyable and productive. Lori had a huge impact on our campaign for the Institute of Neurology/Dementia Research Institute on Grays Inn Road and her vision for enhancing UCL’s position in London was truly ambitious and exciting. We are going to miss her so much and think of her so often.”

As well as leading UCL’s philanthropy and engagement activities, she was a proactive champion of equity and inclusion as a member of UCL’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Group and Friend of Out@UCL. Lori was UCL’s first Interfaith Champion, a role she established to improve understanding and awareness of faith on campus.

Anne Moore, former chair of UCL’s LGBTQ+ equality steering group, knew Lori well through these activities. She said: “Lori made it possible for UCL's LGBTQ+'s history at UCL to be celebrated and more visible through her great ideas and energy as a Friend of OUT@UCL. Lori initiated the idea for the UCL Queer Tapestry The Queer Tapestry exhibition | UCL Campaign - UCL – University College London and joined UCL staff and students with her daughter Poppy to march together at London Pride under the UCL rainbow banner.

“Those memories are warm for me, warm and strong like Lori, and like her I know those memories will live on in the minds and hearts of those she marched together and forward with. She stays with me always as a great colleague and inspirational leader who will always be an integral a part of UCL's tapestry.”

Lori also used her profile as a senior woman leader to support the career development of other women at UCL and beyond, giving substantial time to mentoring women seeking to move into leadership roles. She was a board member of the Higher Education Working Group of the 30% Club, which aims to increase gender diversity at board and senior level management.

Professor Dame Hazel Genn, former Dean of UCL Laws, worked closely with Lori and took on the role of Vice-Provost (International and Advancement) after she retired. She said: “Lori brought vision, supreme professionalism, a sense of fun and some disruption to all that she did for UCL. Her impact on UCL’s advancement work was extraordinary but her contribution to the institution was much wider and deeper, not least in promoting equity and inclusion. She captured the imagination of those who worked with her and inspired so many of us, for whom she was a dear friend. I was in awe of Lori’s strength of character, courage and concern for others as she faced the challenge of her condition. Her legacy is immense and her work on so many fronts will continue.”

Throughout her career, Lori was an advocate of transparent and ethical fundraising practices, working collaboratively with regulatory bodies, including as a member of the standards committee of the fundraising regulator. In particular, she was a long-standing senior volunteer, including as Trustee-A-Large for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). In recognition of her outstanding contributions to university advancement, she was awarded the CASE Europe Distinguished Service Award in 2019.

CASE President and CEO Sue Cunningham, who worked closely with Lori, said: “Lori was a champion in building educational advancement and the deep understanding by educational leaders of its strategic positioning in the UK. Also, through her immense volunteer commitment to CASE, she provided inspiration to many others in the field around the globe. 

“On a personal note, Lori and I grew up in the profession together, starting our work just a few miles apart with Lori in Aberdeen and me in St Andrews. We found ourselves, over the years, on trains to London and on planes to numerous cities around the world. Lori’s deep passion for our work, and sparkling energy, were infectious. And seeing her, many years later, as a key contributor on the CASE Board of Trustees, Lori’s profound strategic intelligence and leadership shone through. The educational sector owes much to Lori, and her memory as a dear friend, a teacher, and a champion will live for many years to come.”

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, who worked with Lori on a number of philanthropically funded projects at UCL, added: "I had unbounded admiration for Lori. I know that I can speak on behalf of all major funders of UCL in saying that she had a rare ability: combining incredible professionalism with great, great warmth. She allowed those of us on the outside to feel a genuine part of the vision of the organisation and, in the case of Wolfson, managed a relationship that allowed, among other things, the creation of the Leonard Wolfson Centre in Queen Square. Beyond UCL, she has been a significant influence on the evolution of university development and fundraising in the UK through the example of her extraordinary leadership. She was more than a colleague; she had become a friend who I respected very much. We will all miss her." 

After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2019, she established the UCL Lori Houlihan Glioblastoma Fund to raise funding for UCL’s innovative clinical research into this type of cancer, which has raised over £200,000 so far.

Dr Paul Mulholland, leader of the Glioblastoma Research Group, managed Lori’s treatment and worked with her on fundraising for research into the condition. He said: “It was my great honour to meet Lori and be part of the team looking after her following her diagnosis with glioblastoma. Although we were looking after Lori, I felt she was also looking after us. She had great warmth, phenomenal intelligence, and an enormously positive and fun attitude. In the short time since being diagnosed with glioblastoma, she turned her attention to supporting research funding and has made a long-lasting impact. She will be greatly missed.”

UCL’s Chair of Council Victor Chu, who enjoyed a long relationship with Lori through the UCL Hong Kong alumni community, paid tribute to Lori saying: “Lori was truly an exceptional lady in every way: intelligent, passionate, determined, courageous and kind. She was totally committed to UCL. The fruits of her wonderful efforts will continue to be felt here for many years to come. Her smiles, kindness and championship for diversity and inclusion will be fondly remembered and treasured by us, with deep gratitude.”

UCL President & Provost Dr Michael Spence added: “Although I didn’t have the opportunity to work directly with Lori, she was hugely supportive in advance of me joining UCL, generously sharing her insights into UCL, which were extensive and very valuable. She was clearly someone who gave a hundred per cent to everything she did, and there seemed to be no end to her energy, even though she was living with a serious illness. This is desperately sad for everyone who knew and loved Lori, and my heart goes out to her husband and daughter and all of her family.”

Donations to the UCL Lori Houlihan Glioblastoma Fund can be made here. For further information about the Fund, please contact Alice Pink.

Colleagues and friends who wish to leave a message about Lori to be shared with her family can do so here.

Full tribute by former UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur

“Lori Houlihan was a truly outstanding member of the senior leadership team at UCL, who made an enormous contribution to our university community in so many different ways. She was the living embodiment of so much that UCL stands for and Lori lived those values for all to see. This not only endeared her to everyone that worked or studied at UCL, but also earned her great, and much warranted, respect.  Lori made sure that sense of belonging to the UCL community extended to our alumni, our honorary doctorates and fellows, and past members of staff. Her impact in this regard was truly global and it made a huge difference to the way in which UCL is now seen and regarded in the world.

"When I first arrived at UCL, I was immediately drawn not only to Lori’s excellence but also to her very obvious potential to become a great leader within UCL and more widely in Higher Education, all of which she achieved, and more.  Lori was driven by a deep commitment to equality, and she was a wonderful role model for women in Higher Education and a great support, helping many to progress their careers.  Presented with a complex problem, Lori was always deeply analytical, and able to problem solve with uncanny accuracy and help find solutions.  She demonstrated great emotional intelligence and was always thoughtful about the impact of her actions on others.

"Lori contributed way beyond the remit of her specific role initially as Director of the Development and Alumni Relations Office and then more recently as Vice Provost for Advancement.  Her view and contribution was a key factor in our decision-making as we worked together closely on keeping UCL on track for major global impact.  Lori not only gave me and others wise counsel and advice, but she did so with great style and much humour - another endearing characteristic.

"The Deans, Vice-Provosts, and Directors of Professional services all loved Lori and the camaraderie she engendered amongst the senior management team was exemplary. She was also loved by those that worked directly for her. She was a ‘turn to’ character with a great sense of loyalty to her colleagues and to UCL. She always had time for everyone and her support to all her colleagues including, at times, those she disagreed with, could always be counted upon.

"Lori will rightly be remembered for the many specific outcomes that she made happen, most noteworthy of which is the highly successful ‘It’s All Academic’ campaign. However, it is her overall contribution that I wish to pay tribute to – she made such a huge difference and I would like us all to remember the breadth and depth of everything that Lori did for UCL and its students and staff. 

"UCL has lost one of its special characters with the passing of Lori Houlihan and we will miss her a great deal. Our hearts go out to her family, particularly Dom and Poppy, but I hope that the many tributes that Lori will receive will help them with their loss.”