Remembering Drew Laven, 25 May 1946 – 28 July 2023

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David Brook pays tribute to Drew Laven, a beloved colleague and Robemaster, who sadly died this summer.

The University of Edinburgh was important to Drew, and Drew was equally important to the University of Edinburgh. 

We were founded in 1583. We have more than 16,000 staff and more than 45,000 students – which means when we’re at full steam, we are 10 per cent of the population of Edinburgh. Many people come and go, and many leave a mark. Drew certainly left a mark.  

Drew joined us in March 1993 and began his career at the University as a franking machine operator at King’s Buildings. After several promotions, he found his home in Old College more than 20 years ago. And it is with Old College that, for so many, he will always be associated and remembered.  

Drew would arrive early every morning, sitting at reception, immaculately dressed and with an air of authority. He had impeccably high standards but also had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He would greet everyone by name and he’d know the name of every new staff member before they started their second day.  

He approached his job in the most friendly and helpful way, with a professionalism that shone through. He simply wanted to do the best for his University. He also looked out for people. He knew wives’ names, husbands’ names, children’s names and parents’ names. He would ask after them, he remembered them and he was genuinely interested in them. 

Photograph by Dave Phillips

When he felt that age was catching up with him, 13 years ago, Drew reduced his hours to part-time and took on the role of Robemaster. This was a role he made his own. 

Drew robed the processions for graduations, once again with an air of authority and that twinkle in his eye. White bow ties were stored for those who forgot them, suits were brushed down, and a stock of safety pins always at hand to pin gowns in place. 

He also travelled abroad – representing the University at international graduations in Toronto, Berlin and, when footballing legend Pele was awarded an honorary degree, London. 

Drew didn’t just mix with footballing royalty. He would often be at the front door of Old College to welcome both our current Chancellor The Princess Royal, and our former Chancellor, The Duke of Edinburgh.  

Drew’s 30 years of service saw him welcome four Principals: David Smith, Lord Sutherland, Sir Timothy O’Shea and our current Principal Sir Peter Mathieson.  

The Principal said: “Drew was both a gentleman and an institution. I’ve always said that if the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ was invented for anyone, it was invented for Drew. We will all miss him.” 

If you have any memories or photographs of Drew Laven that you would like to share, please send them to