THE LONGEST-serving councillor in Rugby has received an honorary doctorate from Coventry University at a graduation ceremony at Coventry Cathedral.
Dr James Shera MBE, who has represented Benn Ward for the Labour Party on Rugby Borough Council since 1981, was given the doctorate in recognition of his contribution to intercultural and interfaith harmony and multicultural education.
Having been brought up in a small rural community in Pakistan, Dr Shera became the first Pakistani Mayor of Rugby in 1988.
Determined to pursue a scholarship at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, Dr Shera hitchhiked from Pakistan to Europe in the late 1960s, eventually moving to the UK to complete his postgraduate degree.
He became a teacher at Newbold Middle School, and later held several governing roles at universities and schools in the region before joining the county council education department, serving as Director Intercultural Education for 36 years.
Dr Shera said: “I am extremely grateful to Coventry University, not just for acknowledging my commitment to education by awarding me an Honorary Doctorate, but for giving me the opportunity to serve for six years on the Board of Governors and a further four years on the Equality and Diversity Board. It has been a huge honour and an immense privilege to do so.
“At the age of five, in Pakistan, my father took me to a village school and, when I was eight, I went to a nearby city and enrolled myself in a middle school. From that day onwards, I decided that a good education was the only way to get out of poverty.
“I went to on college and university, in Europe, all on my own, at my own initiative, without my parents knowing what I was doing. When I left home for Europe, I couldn’t get an airline ticket. I decided to hitch hike and walk to Europe at the age of 22.”
The doctorate adds to the list of Dr Shera’s existing accolades. He was awarded the Star of Pakistan for services to community and interfaith relations in 1992, an MBE in 2007, and became an Honorary Freeman of Rugby Borough in 2017.
He was also given an honorary doctorate last year from the Forman Christian College University in Lahore, Pakistan.
Dignitaries from the Pakistani High Commission in London paid tribute to Dr Shera and his achievements.
Among them was ex-High Commissioner Dr Nafees Zakria, who said: “Dr James Shera is an iconic British Pakistani, an outstanding political figure who has been constantly elected as councillor for four decades. A solid bridge between the two countries, an ambassador of interfaith harmony and philanthropist.
“I have the honour and privilege being his friend whose every act has been purposeful and reflected his love for Britain and Pakistan. His ideas and upholding of human values makes him a towering personality.”
Dr Shera is also the chair of the Equality & Inclusion Partnership (EQuIP), a Warwickshire anti-discrimination body.
EQuIP Chief Executive Junaid Hussain said: “We are so pleased for James and are proud of his award from Coventry University and all of his achievements over the years.
“It is an honour to have James as Chair of our countywide equalities organisation, which has benefited from his experience and knowledge from interfaith, multicultural education and developing good relations between different communities and faith groups from around the world.”
Dr Shera developed links in the community and in wider multi-faith communities across the UK, and through his connections in Pakistan, he soon established a platform for multicultural and multifaith dialogue for peace and prosperity between the two countries.
He became the first Rugby Borough councillor to reach ten terms – and the longest-serving Pakistani councillor in the UK – when he was re-elected in 2018.
A drive to support health services has also been a key part of Dr Shera’s career. He has held non-executive directorships at a number of West Midlands NHS trusts over the years, and played an important part in developing the Myton Hospice facility at St Cross Hospital and the new Warwickshire College building. James Shera Way was named after him for his campaigns as chair of council of fellows at Warwickshire College.
Dr Shera laid the first brick of the Pakistani Community Centre in Rugby. He also helped in the construction of the Rugby Mosque, and a dedicated place for the burial of the Muslim community in Rugby.