Students Staff

05 June 2013

Obituary: Sir Patrick Nairne

Sir Patrick Nairn

Sir Patrick Nairne

It is with great sadness that the University announces the death of former Chancellor, Sir Patrick Nairne on 4 June 2013.

The University’s second Chancellor, Sir Patrick held the post for thirteen years from 1983 to 1997. He was also presented with an Honorary Doctorate by the University in 1983.

Warm tributes have been paid to Sir Patrick by those who knew him and worked alongside him.

Professor Sir Martin Harris, Vice-Chancellor from 1987 to 1992, praised Sir Patrick for his “wise counsel”, while Professor Ron Johnston, Vice-Chancellor from 1992 to 1995, highlighted his “experience and wisdom”.

Tributes to Sir Patrick can be read in full below.

Born on 5 August 1921, Sir Patrick was educated at Radley College and University College, Oxford, with his education interrupted by World War II. During his career Sir Patrick held key positions in the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office and was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Security. He was knighted in 1975.

In 1981 he was elected Master of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, stepping down in 1988, and held a number of public offices, including government monitor for Hong Kong in 1984 and founding chair of the Nuffield Council on bioethics from 1992. He was also a trustee of the National Maritime Museum. He was appointed Chancellor at Essex following the death of founding Chancellor Lord Butler.

Tributes to Sir Patrick Nairne

Professor Sir Martin Harris, Vice-Chancellor 1987-1992

Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn of Patrick Nairne's death. When we arrived at Wivenhoe Park in 1987, as a very inexperienced Vice-Chancellor I was very much in need of wise counsel. Pat Nairne was one of those to whom I could always turn. Always available but never intrusive, he systematically visited every part of the then very small University, sometimes accompanied by Penny and sometimes alone. They always stayed in the guest room at Lakeside House and it was there, after the busy schedule of the day was done, or on the evening before Degree Day (just three ceremonies, all in one day, at that time), that he gave me such sound advice. He was astonishingly well informed and willing to share so much, not just with me but right across the campus. He was just what a Chancellor should be, and the then young University is very much in his debt.

And there's one other thing: his watercolours. As I write this, I am looking at two delightful paintings which Pat gave us all those years ago and which Barbara and I have treasured, in Colchester, in Manchester and now in Cambridge. These exquisite landscapes are a lasting memory for us of a wonderful mentor and friend."

Professor Ron Johnston, Vice-Chancellor 1992-1995

Patrick Nairne was everything a University and its Vice-Chancellor could ask for in a Chancellor. He was a staunch supporter and friend: his experience and wisdom were there to be tapped, with advice that was never pressed but always available when asked for – and always given without any follow-up questioning to know if it was taken.

He was intensely interested in all that happened at the University. The formal occasions were handled with quiet grace, good humour and the minimum of pomp. He made frequent trips to Wivenhoe in order to visit departments and learn what they were doing – and once gave a seminar in the Department of Government, joining members of staff at the traditional meal at David McKay’s restaurant afterwards. Lady Nairne too was a regular visitor, often attending seminars and other events at the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre.

Eddie Newcomb, Registrar 1982-1992

Pat was one of the best of Chancellors. He had an instinctive grasp of the nature of the role and he excelled in both its ceremonial and ambassadorial aspects. He developed a deep love of the University and spent many hours visiting different departments to gain a thorough understanding of the work of both academic and administrative colleagues. Despite his many other roles in public life, he always gave generously of his time to the University and nothing was ever too much trouble. He particularly enjoyed meeting students where his charm and informality won him many friends. At Degree Congregations Pat manifestly meant the warm handshake and congratulations he offered to each student. Pat Nairne was a lovely individual and many of us recall with great affection the visits he and his wife, Penny, made to Essex. Among Pat's many talents was painting and he made a number of delightful water colours of the campus, a sign perhaps of how much the University meant to him.

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