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Baroness Valerie Ann Amos’ story is one of a self-starter and self-motivator. Her meteoric rise in public service and having the distinction of being the first in many endeavours and awards came through hard work and the determination to succeed.
On the last day of 2021, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Amos “a Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.” According to Britannica.com, “The Most Noble Order of the Garter, [is the] English order of knighthood founded by King Edward III in 1348, [and] ranked as the highest British civil and military honour obtainable.”
Valerie hails from Wakenaam, which is a Dutch word that means “waiting for a name.” She credits this unnamed island for laying the foundation in her life through the building blocks of a tight-knit community. Today is ranked amongst the noble of noblest. In reflecting on her life in Wakenaam, she reportedly told Nigel Rosser, of the Evening Standard that “There was that community bond among residents. Every adult looked after the children. I think one of the most important things is to understand who you are, the nature of your identity. Be proud of it and have confidence.”
Other Honourific titles and awards
Valerie was awarded the title of Baroness (i.e. Lady) and Companion of Honour (CH) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for her services to the United Nations and emergency relief in conflict areas. She is also a Privy Counsellor (PC), a title affixed to current or former members of the House of Commons or House of Lords.
Before the Order of Garter, there were other firsts. In August 1997 Valerie was elevated to “life peerage”- a noble rank of the British honourary system – and appointed Baroness of Brondesbury in the London Borough of Brent by Britain Prime Minister, Tony Blair. In 1998 she was appointed Baroness-in-waiting Government’s Whip in the House of Lords, i.e. the upper chamber of the British Parliament, where she served as a Member of Parliament until 2001. She was the first woman of colour to be a
ppointed to the position.
From 2003-2007 she served as Leader of the House of Lords and President Council which was another first as a Black woman. She also served in Blair’s Cabinet, having been appointed Secretary of State for International Development in 2003, becoming the first Black woman to serve as a Minister in the British cabinet. In this portfolio, hers was the opportunity to work with the British Foreign Office, international and domestic aid agencies, and foreign governments to help raise the standard of living in developing countries around the world.
In 2019 Valerie was appointed Master of University College, Oxford University, a position she took up on August 1, 2020. This again was another first with the distinction being that she became the first female Master and the first Black head of any Oxford college. Prior to this appointment, Baroness Amos served as Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations (2010-2015), a position she assumed after demitting office as United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner to Australia.
And in September 2015 when Valerie was appointed Director of SOAS, University of London, she became the first Black woman to lead a university school in the UK. According to its website, it is “the world’s leading institution for Oriental and African studies.
Birth and education
Valerie was born on March 13, 1954 to Eunice and Michael Amos who were both teachers/ educators. She attended Townley Grammar School for Girls, She was the first Black student in her school and excelled in both academics and sports. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Warwick University (1976), a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies, Birmingham University (1977), and did research work (graduate studies) at East Anglia University.
What a phenomenal story for a little Black girl, birthed on an unnamed island, and in a small country! (Source- Internet).