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Douglas Watson

Very sadly, Emeritus Professor Douglas Watson, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor of General Microbiology and Head of the Department of Microbiology, died on 4 September 2007.

Born in Sheffield in 1931, Douglas Watson was educated at the citys King Edward VII School and later at the High School of Stirling. He entered the University of Glasgow to read Chemistry in 1948, where his highly successful undergraduate career culminated in his being awarded a First in 1952 and the Mackay Senior Prize as the most distinguished graduate in his discipline. He went on to undertake research on crystal growth. On completion of his PhD in 1955, he extended his interest in this field to include the study of protein crystals, using electron microscopy. In turn, this work led to collaboration with a newly-arrived member of staff in the Department of Bacteriology at Glasgow, who held a PhD from Leeds and who wished to take advantage of the methods Douglas Watson had developed to examine the protein crystals carried within a particular bacterium. Their joint work stimulated Douglas Watsons interest in the possibilities the electron microscope offered in microbiology; he later observed that Leeds had been unwittingly responsible at least in part for his conversion to virology, even though his formal association with the University still lay many years in the future.

In 1960, Douglas Watson enthusiastically accepted an offer to take charge of the electron microscope section of the Medical Research Councils new Experimental Virus Research Unit at Glasgow. Since the Units equipment was not due to be installed until the following year, he spent the intervening period working in Cambridge. Here, he developed a technique for virus particle counting in the electron microscope that was to be adopted in laboratories around the world. On his return to Glasgow, he formed a long, happy and fruitful association with Dr (later Professor) Peter Wildy to develop the use of electron microscopy as a research tool in virological investigations, with particular reference to the herpes viruses. Their work led to what was at the time one of the most important series of papers on virus structure. On Professor Wildys appointment to the Chair of Virology at the University of Birmingham in 1964, Douglas Watson took up a post in the newly-created MRC Virus Research Group at that University. As leader of a major research team, he consolidated his international reputation through his work on the immunological aspects of herpes virus glycoproteins. In 1968, a grant under the Royal Society Nuffield Commonwealth Bursary Scheme enabled him to take up a Visiting Fellowship at the Australian National University. This enabled him to broaden his virological experience still further. Working on influenza, his publication with Professor Nigel Dimmock on polyacrylamide gel techniques proved to be one of the most cited articles on the subject. On his return to Birmingham, Douglas Watson was made Reader in Virology. Not that his interests were exclusively oriented towards research. He took overall responsibility for the teaching of Microbiology within the science faculty at Birmingham, and was conspicuously successful in this capacity. He was also noted for the excellence of the training he provided for his research students.

Professor Watson was appointed to the newly-established Chair of General Microbiology at Leeds in 1972. He was also to serve as Head of the Department of Microbiology for a large part of the next two decades. It would be no exaggeration to say that the fortunes of the Department were transformed over this period, to the point where it became the largest department of its kind in the country. Douglas Watson took a keen interest in the academic progress and general welfare of each and every student within the Department, one manifestation of which was his ability unerringly to present every graduand by name at degree ceremonies without recourse to notes or programme. He encouraged and expanded virology research and, in 1984, the unit received the significant accolade of recognition from the Medical Research Council as the MRC Herpesvirus Research Group.

External recognition of Douglas Watsons academic prominence took many forms. He served with distinction on numerous national committees and boards concerned with microbiology and health. Appointed a foundation member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of General Virology in 1967, he was made Editor-in-Chief in 1971 and was widely respected for his firm but invariably fair approach. In the 1980s, he served as Treasurer of the Society for General Microbiology; displaying that flair for detailed financial analysis that stood both his Department and the University in such good stead, he presided over a sevenfold increase in the Societys assets.

From the time of his arrival in Leeds, Douglas Watson immersed himself in the management and governance of the University. The number of committees on which he served, often as chair, was legion, and included all the major policy-making bodies. The frequency of his election and re-election was one measure of the esteem and respect he commanded in the University at large. To all his committee responsibilities he brought a finely-honed intellect and a capacity for incisive analysis, combined with a deep-seated commitment to the well-being of the institution, its staff and its students. These qualities were never more abundantly demonstrated than in the closing years of his career when he served successively as Dean of Staff (1989-91) and as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (1991-93). As Dean of Staff he brought to bear an imaginative and non-bureaucratic approach, providing wise guidance to all who sought it. Even with the wider span of responsibilities that came his way as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, he managed, by giving of himself with characteristic selflessness, to remain visible and accessible to members of staff. On the retirement of Douglas Watson in 1993, the Senate of which he was a member throughout his time at Leeds paid warm tribute to his achievements and unstinting service; he left the University the poorer for the loss of his wisdom, erudition, dry wit and warmth of spirit.

Douglas Watson is survived by his wife, Hilary, and by a son and a daughter from a previous marriage.