ENTREPRENEUR Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley will be honoured at a University Campus Suffolk (UCS) graduation ceremony.

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Dame Stephanie, a refugee from Nazi Europe who pioneered the rise of the computer industry in the UK, will be made an Honorary Doctorate of UCS alongside 190 graduating students at the Bury St Edmunds campus on September 29.

The 79-year-old, who has donated about £50million to autism research since 2001, was described by the university as “an ardent philanthropist”.

In 1939 Dame Stephanie arrived in Harwich as an unaccompanied five-year-old refugee from Nazi Europe.

Her first job was at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill and she took her London University honours maths degree at evening classes. One of her jobs was to check the randomness of the premium bond computer ERNIE, and she then entered the burgeoning computer industry.

In 1962, she founded Freelance Programmers for women who, at that time, were leaving industry on marriage or when their first child was expected.

Calling herself Steve in her business development letter to avoid discrimination, over 25 years she turned the business – now called Xansa – into a FTSE 250 leading technology group.

There was a personal side to her success story. Her late son Giles was severely autistic and inspired much of her philanthropy.

Organisations she has helped include the Kingwood support service, Prior’s Court School and Autism Cymru in bilingual Wales.

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