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A Joyful 90th

Mark Damazer

Revd Billy Watson, chaplain here for 27 years from 1957, has just turned 90 and we marked the occasion with organ music (all Bach), some recollections of his achievements here (huge), and a celebratory tea – champagne, cakes and classy sandwiches.

The Bach was played by the two current organ scholars – Dan Pugh-Bevan and Benjamin Maton – and finally by our Tutor in Music and former Director of Music, Dr Roger Allen. We used the chamber organ given to us by Billy’s successor, the late Christopher Jones, shortly before he died.

Billy Watson

Billy’s early career was as a distinguished academic theologian, starting out at Trinity College, Dublin. Eric Southworth, our former Senior Tutor, gave a moving speech about Billy’s many human gifts. Eric has known him for decades, whereas I have known him for only six years. But as Eric pointed out, we have experienced him in similar ways. We were each talking about the same man. He is, and always has been, benign and tolerant. He is a supportive presence around the College – the embodiment of solidarity, as well as longevity.

Billy was an agent for change. His kindness, civility and gentleness ensuring the College shook off some of the more chafing evangelical restraints that, naturally enough, reflected the legacy of the early giants of the college, the Chavasse family. Billy was significantly more informal in style and clearly more accessible to the students, who he helped in multiple ways, including ensuring they could avoid fines when breaking the curfew (a long abolished part of college life). Some change would certainly have happened, but I am in little doubt that Billy speeded it up and the change was for the better.

We had more than 120 for tea – Billy’s family and friends, and many from the College. The applause when he came in was long, warm and richly, richly deserved.

Photos of the celebrations can be viewed here.

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