Tributes paid to Don Varley, 1924–2012

Don Varley's portrait in Rutland Hall
24 Jan 2012 14:25:00.000


Tributes have been paid to the life and work of former University of Nottingham lecturer Don Varley, who has died at the age of 87.

Mr Varley played a significant part in the development of the University over a career spanning more than 40 years, as a senior lecturer, hall warden, student mentor and a key member of the academic community both in Nottingham and further afield.

He joined the University in 1949 – just a year after the institution received its Royal Charter – as assistant lecturer in the Department of Social, Political and Industrial Administration, later to be titled Industrial Economics. He subsequently served as Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, and for more than 20 years was a member of Senate, the academic authority of the University.

Click here for full story

Mr Varley was a firm proponent of mixed-gender halls of residence, and was instrumental in persuading the University to convert Rutland Hall into its first mixed hall. As warden of Rutland Hall between 1970 and 1989, he had a major role in the pastoral care of students, who held him in great esteem.

Under his guidance, Rutland Hall became one of the University’s most distinctive and successful halls, and he frequently described it as ‘the greatest hall in the cosmos’. To this day, he is the only former warden whose portrait hangs in the hall.

Distinguished service

He was the recipient of the Ordo Caligulae, a silver boot awarded by the Students’ Union executive to those who have rendered distinguished service in the interests of students. Following his retirement, a number of students benefited from the Don Varley Enterprise Scholarship, an annual prize funded by Industrial Economics graduates.

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham, said: “Don gave wonderful service to our University.

“He helped shape the lives of so many graduates in his academic role, but had an even more memorable impact as Warden of Rutland Hall. He will be warmly remembered as educator and mentor.”

Mr Varley taught economics, industrial administration, management and leadership to undergraduate students in the Department of Industrial Economics, now a part of Nottingham University Business School. When the School moved to the University’s Jubilee campus in 1998, a room was named after him in recognition of his outstanding teaching.

‘An inspirational teacher’

Professor Stephen Diacon, of Nottingham University Business School, worked with Mr Varley during the late 1970s and 1980s.

Professor Diacon said: “Don was a conscientious, charismatic and inspirational teacher. His primary concern was to give students an appreciation of the principles and practice of management, and he was a pioneer of outdoor management team-building events.

“As a work colleague, he was challenging and encouraging – and full of surprises too. His extemporised jazz sessions at social events, on piano and clarinet, were a particular delight.”

Professor Anthony Kent, of the School of Physics & Astronomy, acted for a number of years in the 1980s as Deputy Warden of Rutland Hall.

Professor Kent said: “I think the way in which Don managed Rutland Hall was very innovative. His approach involved delegating a lot of responsibility to the students and the Junior Common Room. It was interesting to see how the students that took this on board developed and grew in confidence – it was a fantastic preparation for their life after university.”

Pioneering new techniques

Professor Johnnie Johnson, now at the University of Southampton, started his academic career at Nottingham and worked with Mr Varley in the 1980s.

Professor Johnson said: “Don was a pioneer in developing student-centred and activity-based learning and regularly held voluntary management workshops in his house and garden at Rutland Hall. Don quickly recognised the significant learning that was taking place and, with great energy and enthusiasm, set about designing a three day outdoor training course. This proved so popular that the students often persuaded their future employers to send delegates to them.

“When I moved to Southampton and Don had retired, I asked him to help me set up similar courses there. Don's infectious enthusiasm for this style of learning is clearly demonstrated by the fact that he continued to travel to Southampton on a regular basis to help run these courses – until he reached the age of 82!”

Mr Varley also maintained a full and diverse life outside the campus. He was a former national president of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), former chairman of the Nottingham Council of Voluntary Youth Services, a County Scout Commissioner and former President of the International Association of University Professors and Lecturers. He retired from the University in 1990.

In an interview given to the University magazine after his retirement in the 1990s, Mr Varley talked of the opening of the Portland Building, the expansion in student numbers during the 1950s and 60s, and his admiration for former Vice-Chancellor Bertrand Hallward. He also spoke of his pride in working at the University.

“Throughout my academic career,” he said, “I have had two main concerns which are axiomatic for me, one is academic freedom with full responsibility and that has to be associated with humility. And the second is for university institutions, no longer ivory towers, to remain conscious that they are in an uncertain, turbulent, open system, now a global one, and to adapt with both vision and vigour.

“They have been the motivators within my academic career and one of the reasons why I have been so proud to have worked for the University of Nottingham.”

The funeral will be held at Bramcote Crematorium at 12:30pm on Saturday, 28th January.

— Ends —

Story credits

More information is available Tim Utton, Deputy Director, Communications, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 846 8092,

Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

No related articles

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798