Couple who met at Surrey celebrate 50th wedding anniversary
Liz and Ray Meerabeau, who met while studying at the University in 1970, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in February 2022. Earlier this year, they returned to our Stag Hill campus and shared their story…
First days at University
In 1969, Liz and Ray were both 18 and starting their first year at the University of Surrey. Liz arrived by train with a box of possessions. For her, it was the first time visiting campus as her interview had taken place in Clapham. Although she’d planned to go directly into nursing, a teacher suggested degree-level study. She decided to take a course in biological sciences with a nursing component. At the time, Surrey was one of only a handful of universities that offered this.
Ray arrived with just a small rucksack and a little bag. His motivation was entirely different. He discovered that Surrey offered a chemical engineering course with an industrial placement. To him, that meant “a degree of certainty” that facilitated a “transition from a degree course to a place of work”. This was “always a winner.” As Ray adds, “I knew that once I’d swum in deep water away from home, there was no going back.”
Amour – Meeting in French Class
At the time, the concept of general studies had been introduced at Surrey. As part of four-year courses, even science and engineering students such as Ray could take additional arts-based courses. This included a French class, where he met Liz.
Ray believed general studies was “excellent from an educational” perspective. It was “set up in a way to help you for when you leave” and “it was an opportunity to meet people from other disciplines”, such as Liz.
From first date to marriage
The couple’s first date was to a concert at Guildford’s Civic Hall by folk group The Spinners, which Ray heard about through his landlady. Liz jokingly claims that Ray was “such a cheapskate” as most of their following dates involved walking along the riverfront. Nonetheless, they enjoyed their peaceful river walks, which often took them as far as Shalford.
Only a few years later, Liz and Ray were married at the ages of just 20 and 21 respectively. This was in part due to Ray telling a fib to a landlord that they were already engaged to persuade him to allow them to rent together!
The demands of their undergraduate degrees, however, meant any idea of a long honeymoon was not a possibility. Now in their final years, both Liz and Ray recalled how intensive their courses were.
Except for stocking up on groceries, they'd spend their time studying from 8am to midnight. In regard to the workload, Ray found there was a lot of pressure, but he loved the fact that the “pace was really intensive”.
Despite the intensity of their courses, both had hobbies in their early years at University.
Liz was in the choir, which gave her the opportunity to attempt “quite difficult pieces of work” such as Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time. She also enjoyed ballroom dancing.
In his first year, Ray ran for the University. He took part in cross-country, which he found a “killer”.
Liz and Ray were never interested in clubbing, but they liked the atmosphere in the Students’ Union, and took part in some of the activities and events on offer, particularly the political ones.
Ray enjoyed talking with other students and having debates late at night in their halls of residences. He found it fascinating to talk to people from various backgrounds who were interested in debating and felt he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet such individuals elsewhere.
Ray describes himself as a “motorbiking freak”, who’s always ridden a bike and was first sat on one at the age of four by his brother. While at University, he’d ride back and forth to campus from his digs in Lightwater. He rode with Liz on the back for the first time to his mother’s house.
Life after Surrey
Upon finishing her degree, Liz qualified as a nurse and health visitor. She practised for six years before returning to Surrey to complete a teaching qualification. Following this, she taught at several universities, while studying for a PhD, then an MBA.
After spending a short period at the Department of Health, Liz completed her career as the Dean of Health and Social Care at the University of Greenwich.
Ray received a bursary from a cement company to study a PhD at Surrey in Chemical and Process Engineering. They required a mathematical model to solve a heat transfer problem in one of their largest rotary kilns.
Upon graduating in 1977, he joined a graduate program with a UK Chemical Plant Contractor. This taught him various applied skills, allowing him to be involved in high capital value projects in overseas chemicals production.
Following this, Ray had a long career in the refining and petrochemical sector, working alongside a variety of highly skilled teams.
Both Liz and Ray have visited the campus several times since graduating. Many of Liz’s visits were due to her being part of a local network of academics. Ray felt privileged to be invited back by his former lecturer, the late Dr Allan Millington, to act as a referee for a chemical engineering PhD student. Dr Millington also invited him to share his experience within the refining and petrochemical sector with final year students.
Both noted various changes since their time at Surrey. Liz remarked on the changes to the built environment compared to their time on campus. “It’s grown enormously,” she said. They also pointed out that the range of degree subjects has expanded and, although Surrey is still a science-focused university, this was even more pronounced when they were students.
When asked about what their advice would be for current undergraduate students, Ray emphasised the importance of resilience in changing circumstances and being able to ”accept disappointments as they are going to happen”. Liz’s final piece of advice was that students should always go and talk to somebody if they’re struggling in any way. She adds: “It’s often easy to drop away from studies and it’s better to tackle problems such as this early.”
The Alumni Team thank Liz and Ray for visiting us on campus and sharing their memories from their time at University. If you have stories from your students days you’d like to share, please contact us on email@example.com