Pilgrim’s Business

Here’s why I submitted the suggestion Cass Business School be renamed Pilgrim’s Business School:

The school is located opposite Bunhill Fields, where two of Britain’s greatest men are laid to rest: William Blake and John Bunyan.

Both were visionaries and are still celebrated despite this secular era, and whose work echoes throughout the City today. Many of you would have seen Blake’s illustration ‘Ancient of Days’ projected on St Paul’s Cathedral Dome in late-’19.

Bunyan’s major work — The Pilgrim’s Progress — is a C17th allegory that’s been cited as the first novel written in English, translated into over two hundred languages, never been out of print, and is part of the Franklin Library 100 Greatest Books of All Time.

The story’s protagonist is an everyman character — us — and the plot centres on the journey taken from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It is a story of faith.

Without faith, our endeavours, our ambitions, our industry would amount to naught. Without the confidence others have in us, we’d be entrusted with little, too.

In considering a name for the business school my father and I attended (’81 & ’08), the person who stands out most prominently is my former tutor, the late Professor Shelagh Heffernan. To those who knew her, her name is enough to stir the most profound respect, a vision of utmost professionalism, and unrivaled passion for proper learning.

On many matters, she and I didn’t see eye-to-eye — including how to wear one’s faith. And yet, undoubtedly, she blessed me with her faith in my potential. Although I benefited hugely from her belief in me, personally, I also saw that her devotion was egalitarian.

Shelagh’s husband was also a professor and, at one time, the tutor of the former PM, David Cameron. Prof Peter Sinclair passed away last year (COVID), and, upon remembering him, I recalled the first speech Cameron and Osborne gave to the City as party leaders in ’05. I wonder what role Shelagh (with her husband) played in inviting them to use the ‘Sir John Cass Business School’ as a platform.

Shelagh’s requiem service was held at St. Bartholomew on Winter Solstice ’10. It was a cold day and somber occasion. There, with my back to a stone-cold wall, I read an inscription in marble:

Sluice your briny flood, what! Can you keep your eyes from tears and see the marble weep? Burst out for shame, or if you find no vent for tears, yet stay, and see the stones relent.

At the moment, it felt as if it were Shelagh’s spirit reminding me to go forth. To look back but not to dwell, to accept life’s pilgrimage, and to do so with stoicism she embodied and the beauty with which Blake illustrated The Pilgrim’s Progress a century after Bunyan’s ink had dried.

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