Victor Watts FSA, FRHistS
Master: 1989 — 2002
A fantastic life and service that Victor gave to the college community as a whole
2002 was a difficult year for the College, in light of the death of third Master, Victor Watts. Many fantastic tributes have been paid to Victor none more so than the 1000 or so people who turned out in his memory on a cold January Day in 2003 both present students and members of the alumni alike.
To write about Victor, the words of Association resident Mark Creighton are more than appropriate:
As president of the association I thought about what a frightening experience my first major public speech to the Grey College Reunion had been, umming and errring, my hands shaking trying to remember not to drink too much wine so that the words come out correctly when it is my turn to speak. But I also remembered siting in the audience on many occasions listening to Victor after formal dinners, graduation lunches and Association events and I realised that it was Victors speeches epitomised the nature of the man.
His judgement of mood, tone and his audience, backed by vast amounts of experience, were present whether you were meeting him on a 1 to 1 level or when he addressed a room of hundreds. He was a fantastic orator, who drew inspiration from a wide variety of literary sources and it was amazing how much you could learn during your after dinner coffee. Like the man, the words were engaging and enthusiastic, you new how passionate he was about his subject matter, and the emotion conveyed was very infectious. On numerous occasions his words acted as a catalyst for ideas and projects within the college and the university, that went far beyond the event he had addressed.
He could also be a very funny man and his speeches were littered with his dry sense of humour. I remember one speech at a JCR President's Guest Night, where he caught the mood of his student audience with some extracts from his work on the origins of place names. On the face of it the origins of medieval place names may sound a little dry and not the chosen topic of an after dinner speech to an inebriated undergraduate gathering. It was hard to believe that so many of County Durham's towns and villages had names with such rude connotations or the smallest hint of innuendo, he drew each one out individually and had many of us crying with laughter.
It was this and so much more that Victor brought to the college, first as a tutor, and then later in 1989 after his appointment as Master. Having guided the college through many changes both academic and social it came as a great loss to every one when he suddenly passed away in December 2002. While his family, the college and the wider academic world have lost a fantastic friend, the college has lost something more, someone fondly remembered and well loved.
To find out more about Victors influence on college life and his love Grey please pick up and read From the Ashes by Nigel Watson, a book chartering the history of Grey College.