Prof Willcocks, the first woman to receive The Press’ Lifetime Achievement Award was hailed for her work at the university from which she retires at the end of April. although she does plan to focus on her involvement with other educational, cultural and public service organisations in York and North Yorkshire.

She was described by the judges as “someone who has provided the great and improving education that all businesses need, a woman deeply immersed in the cultural as well as the educational well-being of the region”

And she told the audience: “Thank you York. This is a city that is so welcoming to outsiders.”

She also thanked her university – “the most brilliant educational community I could wish for” and students who had tremendous skills from different colours and cultures”

Prof Willcocks joined York St John in 1999, originally as principal of Ripon & York St John, then led it through massive changes, including relocation to a single campus in York, in 2001, a fact which led to a Ripon newspaper calling for village stocks to be reserved for her; the achievement of Taught Degree Awarding Powers; and the award of university title in 2006.

In 2008 she received a CBE for services to higher education and communities in North Yorkshire.

She helped to attract £65 million worth of investment, including new teaching space, arts facilities, student accommodation and learning resources. She also oversaw the creation of the Science City York Phoenix Centre, the incubation unit for 14 creative digital start-up businesses.

A member of the Board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, she chairs the Action on Access Forum and is a trustee of the Council for Industry and Higher Education and the Higher Education Academy.

Locally, she is actively engaged with the Yorkshire Film Archive, York at Large – the York Cultural Partnership – and also chairs the York Theatre Royal Trust and Creative York.

Master of ceremonies Colin Hazelden said: “Luckily for us, she is keen to continue her involvement in higher education and public service beyond York St John, as well as retaining her passionate interest in the cultural life of York and North Yorkshire.

“She has just been appointed as a trustee of York’s famous Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a post which begins when she leaves the university.”

Prof Willcocks joins an illustrious line-up of past Lifetime Achievers.

They include Sir Donald Barron former chairman of Rowntree Mackintosh, Pro Chancellor of the University of York, and chairman for 15 years of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Trustees, and Professor Tony Robards, Chair of Innovation at York University and champion of the job-spinning Bioscience York cluster group.

In 1996 the honour went to Ian Johnston, former managing director and later chairman of the ill-fated Terrys of York in the days when the firm was at its height in the 1960s and 70s.

In 1997 it was the turn of David Dickson, chairman of Garbutt & Elliott, the York chartered accountants, who among his myriad duties was a member of the strategic board of Science City York for which he was chairman of its finance and funding group and deputy chairman of its Business Development Group and a member of the Chamber of Merchant Adventurers.

Last year, the honour went to John Yeomans, senior partner of Harrowells solicitors, a man who is in the phalanx of the fight to expand tourism, lure in new businesses and present the image of York as a city where its professional community is every bit as good as London’s or Leeds’.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Professor Dianne Willcocks