Posted: by Verity Hilton in Higher Education

Celebrating the life and work of Professor Sir David Watson 1949-2015

David Watson was an outstanding Chair of UALL (1994 to 1998), during the time of his long service as Vice-Chancellor of Brighton, prior to taking a Chair at the London Institute of Education and then becoming Principal of Green Templeton until his sudden death in February 2015. The large gathering and the reflections at Oxford mirrored the scale and diversity of his contributions and the universality of affection in which he was held. People came from many of his different walks of academic and community life. Particularly striking was the diversity of his public and also personal roles and contributions: not only in his family, home town and country, but globally. The breadth and depth of his reach at all levels was extraordinary.

Much was said, yet much more could be added. For example there was no reference to his central role in conceiving a now and in recent years significant and influential global force for university engagement with its wider world: the Talloires Network - and not just ‘the university’, but the great range of universities in different countries. David, more than anyone, brought home the importance of different kinds of university contributions to social good in different circumstances. He was scathing about the formation of university Groups, or as he called them Gangs, for their self-seeking destructive competitiveness. No less significant, a lesson for our modern ‘leaders’, was his capacity to persuade, inspire, and lead by sustained example. This resonated through ninety minutes of testimony. Thus he won the respect and admiration as well as warm affection in many public and private circles. His was leadership by deed no less than by word.

Fittingly, the opening soliloquy after introductions by the College Chair and the Acting Principal was by thrice-VC Sir Graeme Davies, a former HEFCE Chief Executive with whom David was a Council co-worker. Graeme was generous in his praise. He made repeated reference to David’s work as a UALL (UACE) leader, a role that Graeme also occupied in turn. It was a nice commendation of the importance of UALL and its field of work as well of David himself.

What emerged for me? - Certainly David’s warmth and charm, his intelligence and integrity, none of which needed the reminder; but also the breadth of his interests, expertise and influence. He was truly a Renaissance man. In an age of sometimes extreme specialisation, when digging ever deeper hides from the labourer the wider skies, the bigger questions and the larger truths, Sir David Watson will long remain a symbol of what at its best being fully human means. It gives substance to the adage ‘if you want a job done, give it to a busy [sic] man’.




Verity Hilton

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Verity Hilton
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