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Former Aberdeen University leader Lori Houlihan dies aged 53

Dr Lori Houlihan
Dr Lori Houlihan

Lori Houlihan, who helped transform the landscape of Aberdeen University has died aged 53 after a battle with brain cancer.

After her diagnosis with glioblastoma in May 2019 she established a fund to support research into the disease.

The UCL Dr Lori Houlihan Glioblastoma Fund raises money for research into the cancer at University College London where Dr Houlihan had been vice-provost (advancement).

She joined UCL in 2011 after 12 years at Aberdeen University where she had established its first directorate of marketing.

External communications

During this time Dr Houlihan (formerly Manders) led all external affairs functions at Aberdeen, including student recruitment and relations with government.

She also headed the Sixth Century Campaign which raised more than £150 million as the university entered its sixth century of existence. The campaign enabled the development of the Sir Duncan Rice Library and the Suttie Centre in the city.

Dr Houlihan was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and then graduated in business studies from Robert Gordon University.

Health advocate

Between 1992 and 1999 she was director of marketing for NHS health promotions in the north-east of Scotland. She joined the university from the NHS.

An Aberdeen University spokesperson said: “Passionate and dynamic, Lori was instrumental in building the university’s brand at a local, national and international level including community outreach through events programmes such as the popular Word Festival.

“She led many successful projects which included helping bring the Scottish Parliament to the university.”

In 2019, Dr Houlihan received the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe Distinguished Service Award, which recognises leaders who have made a significant and lasting impact in the their field.

Gender diversity

She was a trustee-at-large of CASE (Washington DC), a member of the standards committee of the Fundraising Regulator, and a trustee of the Film and Television Charity. Dr Houlihan was also a board member of the higher education working group of the 30% Club, which seeks which seeks to increase gender diversity at board level.

Dr Houlihan was a former governor of St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen, and a Burgess of Guild of the City and Royal Burgh of Aberdeen.

In 2018 she was elected as a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and was a patron of Aberdeen Art Gallery and the International Youth Festival.

Last year she was awarded an honorary doctorate by UCL in recognition of her contribution to the international advancement profession, advocacy of transparent and ethical fundraising practices and her profile as a senior woman leader.


Dr Houlihan is survived by her daughter Poppy, husband Emeritus Professor Dominic Houlihan, who was formerly vice-principal at the Aberdeen University for research and commercialisation and then internationalisation, her parents Laura and Tom McKenna and sister Ali Renshaw.

She was also very close to her three stepchildren Anthony, Catherine and Michael and was a much-loved Gma (grandma) to their four children.


Professor Iain Torrance, pro-chancellor of Aberdeen University said: “I’d known Lori for about 25 years, and everything said about her is true. She was a vibrant, utterly positive person with a terrific can-do attitude. A wonderfully successful fundraiser, she succeeded because her heart was in it and if she took something on, she gave it 150%.

“She understood herself as a storyteller and as a person of moral depth and integrity, she told true stories, built alliances and won friends. Lori had wonderful self-awareness, always able to laugh at herself, never ever pompous, silly or pretentious. She was a great friend. We all loved her, and we grieve with Dominic and Poppy.”