The email began ' I'm writing to let you know that you have been chosen to receive this year's Mary Lou Carrington Award'
Just another a scam surely was my immediate and unquestioning reaction. I was about to press delete (I love the rubbish bin icon on Apple Mac products) when I noticed the text contained no dubious looking attachment and no telltale elementary spelling mistakes. Furthermore the writer went on to say ' you might be surprised to receive this out of the blue from the Company of Educators on behalf of whom I am contacting you. Please give me a call when convenient.
I concluded there was no harm in contacting by phone what sounded like (and indeed turned out to be) a woman of considerable repute and unimpeachable credentials.
Susan Fey OBE was indeed who she purported to be - an honourable member of the Company of Educators and Chair of Trustees of the Mary Lou Carrington Award and I had in fact been chosen, not just nominated, from a distinguished field of eminent candidates to be given this prestigious award.
Mary Lou Carrington, I went on to learn, was one of the very early Freeman of the then Guild of Educators; she was devoted to the Guild and played a large part in its development and growth to become the Company of Educators. A businesswoman, with a distinguished career in the City, subsequently running her own business, Mary Lou was passionate about education, and forging links between business and education. Sadly she died in 2008 leaving a legacy that her family wished to be used to recognise annually women who, like Mary Lou herself, had played a key role in bringing together the worlds of education and business. There are two key criteria for the Mary Lou Carrington Award, set after discussion with her husband and daughter: firstly, that the person awarded it must be a woman; secondly that she must be a businesswoman who has demonstrated a substantial commitment to education. This is only the third year of the award and the first in which nominations were sought from the membership of the Company of Educators. The judges, it transpired, thought that my own endeavours in this regard were worthy of mention!
I accepted graciously, delighted to find myself in the company of luminaries like Dame Marjorie Scardino the previous year's winner. As befits a city livery company - especially one comprising acclaimed university academics and outstanding head teachers - there followed an invitation to attend a sumptuous dinner in the Painters Hall London where I had to stand amongst said company to hear the preceptor recite a list of my achievements and the Master present me my award (a generous sum of money which I donated to the Helena Kennedy Foundation and Milton Keynes Women and Work)
I have been honoured by a Fellowship of the City & Guilds and a number of doctorates and professorships from a range of universities - all of which came as a surprise and all of which proved to be a great occasions to scrub up and don academic garb. This latest award provided an opportunity that was no less grand and most significantly for me the money received has been passed on through my charities to help other women who may one day themselves be candidates for Mary Lou's thoughtful benefaction.