Sir Colin Campbell

Professor Sir Colin Campbell,

Tributes have been paid following the death of Professor Sir Colin Campbell, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, who has died at the age of 77.

In 1988 he made history as the country’s youngest Vice-Chancellor when, then aged 43, he took up the role at Nottingham. He was then the university’s fifth Vice-Chancellor and served until 2008.

Sir Colin played a key role in the commissioning of the Jubilee Campus expansion scheme and was instrumental in raising Nottingham’s profile internationally – overseeing the opening of campuses in China and Malaysia, and attracting more overseas students than any other university in the country.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West said: “From the award-winning Jubilee Campus to the pioneering University of Nottingham Ningbo, the first Sino-foreign University in China, he had a vision to grow the university not just through infrastructure, but through student numbers, reputation and by forging new links.

“He was a formidable man and will always be remembered. We offer our deepest condolences to his family at this sad time.”


Messages of condolence

  • Jane Forman Hardy
    1. At 6:41PM on 26 May 2022, Jane Forman Hardy wrote

    I was extremely sad to hear that Sir Colin had passed away . I served as a lay member of Council and became Pro-Chancellor for a few years before the end of my tenure. I feel extremely privileged to have been involved with the University when he was the Vice-Chancellor. He was inspirational, challenging and completely driven. Under his leadership the University grew in reputation nationally and internationally. There was never a dull moment. He not only contributed to the success of the University , his many public offices are testament to how much he did for others. He adored his children to whom I send my condolences.

  • Professor Ting Ren, University of Wollongong, Australia
    2. At 2:32PM on 27 May 2022, Professor Ting Ren, University of Wollongong, Australia wrote

    I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of Professor Sir Colin Campbell, and my deepest condolences to his family. He was the VC of UoN during the time when I was completing my PhD and worked as a senior research fellow at the university. He was a person of inspiration and vision, who has changed the landscape and international standing of the University of Nottingham. He will be remembered by many of his colleagues, friends and students of this global university as it stands today. May he rest in peace.

  • Professor Jane Robinson
    3. At 5:02PM on 27 May 2022, Professor Jane Robinson wrote

    Sir Colin Campbell chaired the interview panel when I was appointed Foundation Professor of

    Nursing at Nottingham in 1989. I remember it well!

    ‘Colin’ seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of an academic department of nursing (a view not universally shared). He had a tremendous intellectual capacity and, as others have said, seemed interested in all of the enormous range of activities in the university, and he always remembered to congratulate when appropriate.

    Jane Robinson (Emeritus)

    25 May 2022

  • Ritah Nakayinga
    4. At 7:35PM on 27 May 2022, Ritah Nakayinga wrote

    I am a direct beneficiary of the developing solution scholarship (2005-2006), which is slice of your great vision. Fast forward, your vision & legacy continues in my country where I have developed my community through academic mentorship and research. Rest in peace and power, Sir Colin Campbell.

  • Alexander Kweku Sackey
    5. At 1:14AM on 28 May 2022, Alexander Kweku Sackey wrote

    To the family of Sir Collin Campbell,

    I send my deepest condolences on the passing of kind gentleman. I had the rare honour of working closely with Sir Collin, for three years as a member of the Student executive Council and also as the Student Union President.

    We opened the Jubilee Campus together where we welcomed HRH Queen Elizabeth II, as well as many other key projects. In all of this I came to respect Sir Colin as a forward thinking, astute man of action.

    Sir Colin Campbell, Damifra Due ( rest gently)

    Alexander Kweku Sackey

    Accra Ghana

    SU PRESIDENT 1999/00

  • EUR ING John Yarnall
    6. At 3:31PM on 28 May 2022, EUR ING John Yarnall wrote

    On behalf of all Materials and surface engineering students of UoN, we would like to celebrate Sir Colin’s life and all that he achieved for the our university. Heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.

    John Yarnall

    Post Graduate UoN, 2004

    7. At 10:42AM on 29 May 2022, DOROTHY ARABA YAKOBA ACKOM wrote

    Rest in peace Sir. My condolences to the bereaved family.

  • Ruairidh MacKenzie
    8. At 12:51PM on 29 May 2022, Ruairidh MacKenzie wrote

    Sir Colin was an admired and respected cousin of my father (Murdoch) and he's deeply saddened by the news and wishes to pass on his condolences to the family.

    If there's a possibility that the family could reach out to my dad via myself that would be lovely.

    Kindest regards


  • Dr Yakubu Salifu
    9. At 10:51PM on 29 May 2022, wrote

    I join my former University, the great University of Nottingham, to mourn the death of (and also celebrate the life of) Professor Sir Colin Campbel. As a young and early career academic, I am motivated by Professor Sir Colin Campbel who was vice-chancellor at age 43 and made a significant mark in the history of the University of Nottingham by making it truly an international university with campuses in China and Malaysia.

    My condolence to the family, the University of Nottingham, his colleagues and friends.

    Dr Yakubu Salifu

  • Douglas Robertson
    10. At 12:44AM on 31 May 2022, Douglas Robertson wrote

    Colin was the best, clearest and toughest VC I have worked for. He gave me the most space to develop and support the university and myself. My time at Nottingham will remain one of the highlights of my career. (former Director of Research and Innovation to 2003)

  • Philip Dalling
    11. At 1:03PM on 01 June 2022, Philip Dalling wrote

    A man of vision who raised the profile of The University.

    Demanding to work for but very fair and supportive.

  • Dr Stephen Castell
    12. At 8:03PM on 09 June 2022, wrote

    RIP Colin, friend and co-pioneer in the UK of IT and the Law.🙏

    In the 1970s and 80s Colin and I used to find ourselves repeatedly speaking together on conferences and seminars on Computer Law subjects, especially on the nascent use of computer and communications technologies in law practice, and for research (I had in 1977 launched, with solicitor Neil Maybury, the UK's first publicly-available computer-assisted legal information service, Infolex, on Prestel, economically providing for everyday practising lawyers a database CLARUS, Case LAw Report Updating Service). Also on Infosecuity, Law Courts Computerisation, and the status and reliability of computer evidence - the foundation of today's digital forensics.

    When Colin became V-C of Nottingham Uni, where I had previously done two postgrad degrees, and obtained my prize-winning PhD in Mathematics, in 1972, he occasionally would call me and ask for my thoughts on various aspects of and ideas for the university, as one of its alumni. His own ideas, drive, skill and commitment to implementation are of course legendary, and the present standing of the university will forever be his legacy.

    I salute and mourn you, Colin, and count myself lucky, honoured and priveleged to have known you, and to have stood with you as a unique pioneer and thought-leader.

    My sincere thoughts and condolences to his family at this wretched time.

    Dr Stephen Castell CITP

  • Professor David Newton
    13. At 10:52AM on 14 June 2022, wrote

    Sir Colin gave me my first Chair. He was direct, tough and I liked him enormously. I wish he were still with us and I wish he were still my VC.

  • Farouk Shakib
    14. At 1:28PM on 14 June 2022, Farouk Shakib wrote

    At a brief meeting with Sir Colin in 2007 I asked if the University would consider setting up a campus in the Gulf region, to which he replied, “why don’t you write me a report”. This is indicative of how empowering Colin was as a VC, always prepared to consider others' ideas and looking to the future. I was soon on a flight with two other colleagues to look at options in Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar, but on our return we all agreed that we should consolidate our campuses in Malaysia and China, rather than contemplate a third one. However, this experience gave me my first taste of Transnational Education and helped pave the way for my subsequent global engagement role. I treasure those memories, which I attribute to that initial encounter with Sir Colin just before he left the university - he was a true visionary.

  • Steven Wright
    15. At 8:08PM on 14 June 2022, Steven Wright wrote

    I was asked to work for Sir Colin for his last 12 weeks as Vice Chancellor as his chauffeur from The Chauffeurs Guild London, and I built up a strong relationship with him in those weeks.

    I stayed on as University chauffeur for 12yrs and it changed my life. I feel I had created a very good bond with him and he always had time for me whenever he came to visit the University.

    I have nothing but respect and my heart goes out to his family at this time.

    Steve Wright

  • John N Mills
    16. At 2:20PM on 20 June 2022, John N Mills wrote

    I first met Colin at a lunch arranged for that purpose and then as his guest at Twickenham – he was rather enthusiastic about his rugby. I took it as a great compliment that he asked me to join Council (subject at the time to Keith’s approval). These were the latter years of Colin’s tenure as VC but he had an excellent mind, clarity of purpose and no less ambition than when he’d started his tenure. I learnt quickly that a chat with Colin always had purpose and if you challenged him you needed a well thought through reason.

    As a new VC he challenged the way the sector and Nottingham thought, was a first mover, took risks, made big calls and change always excited him. I hadn’t re-engaged with Nottingham at that time but Sir Peter Ruben’s comments echo everything I came to understand about the impact he had and the scale of transformation he sought to achieve. I share Keith’s view that Colin created momentum in all areas of the University be it student growth, breadth and depth of research, infrastructure both UK and internationally and above all its ambition. He understood people well and supported those who contributed to that momentum and shared his vision. He was open to challenge but dismissive of criticism without substance. Sir David sums it up well, and knows better than I, that keeping everybody at a University happy through periods of growth and change is not achievable.

    I wasn’t there at the start but I know much of the University he created with those who had like mind. The scale of the University in student numbers, new campuses in China and Malaysia, the Jubilee campus and Vet School at Sutton Bonington, breadth and depth in research, and a culture of being forward looking, innovative and ambitious. A legacy with sound foundations for the future.

    On a personal level I remember a kind and generous man with an excellent if dry sense of humour who understood people and was happy to invest time with them. It was always a pleasure to be in his company and I’m proud to have known a remarkable man.

    Nottingham University must always reflect on and respect his contribution as it would not be the University it is today without him.

  • Stephen Brown
    17. At 4:41PM on 20 June 2022, Stephen Brown wrote

    I worked closely with Colin as a Head of Department, Dean of Engineering and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Industry for 20 years from the time of his arrival at Nottingham. Having worked for 25 years in the University under four VCs, it was immediately clear that Colin would break the mould and life for all of us was going to change and not everybody was going to enjoy it. However, Colin managed the change from a comfortable middle of the range University to one of the top British institutions and a leader in international developments in higher education.

    As a result of his experience building personal relationships with government and industry, he was able to foresee major changes to the way Universities would be required to operate in the future and this gave Nottingham the edge in both research and teaching developments. My first conversation with Colin was prior to his arrival in Nottingham when he spoke of the importance of research and of engineering in particular. He identified the implementation of research quality measures and the need to modularise teaching programmes as two factors that would be introduced. He also saw the need to increase Nottingham’s already excellent relationships with industry for the benefit of both research and teaching. We were able to build on existing broad-based Strategic Partnerships with leading companies such as Shell, Ford and Rolls Royce.

    As one of his first actions, Colin established a Research Committee to facilitate improved research performance. This was given a budget to pump prime new research ideas and to back links with industry. We also prepared the University for the quantification of research quality as this was to determine future research income from the Funding Council. Within a short time, Nottingham’s research income from industry was exceeded only by Oxbridge and Imperial College and overall research income increased year on year. In order to be ready for change, Colin also ensured that Nottingham was amongst the first to introduce modular teaching.

    A feature of Colin’s leadership was a “can do” attitude involving the right people and improved management. His approach of taking lessons from company management into academia was successful in this context. I recall showing a senior visitor from another provincial University around the Jubilee Campus when it was new and noting his admiration for the speed with which we had changed the old Raleigh Cycle site into a modern, attractive and well-appointed extension to Highfields campus.

    Colin recognised that high quality leadership was required both for existing successful departments and for those needing improvement. Consequently, he took a personal interest in all new chair appointments to ensure that this was the case.

    He was very proud of his two children, Andrew and Victoria, and of Nottingham Forest and of the British and Irish Lions, ensuring that Saturdays’ matches were analysed at Monday Management Group meetings before the formal business.

    These recollections only touch on a few of the many aspects of Professor Sir Colin Campbell’s outstanding 20 year leadership at Nottingham. It was a pleasure and privilege to be part of it.

  • Bashar Issa
    18. At 7:30AM on 21 June 2022, Bashar Issa wrote

    I remember him coming to the MRI centre with important guests and introduced to us while working on the o.5T machine by our mentor late Professor Peter Mansfield.

  • Marcia Stewart
    19. At 2:23PM on 21 June 2022, Marcia Stewart wrote

    Marcia Stewart, Emeritus Principal Lecturer, De Montfort University

    I first met Colin in 2004 at a gathering at his campus home with my partner Professor Herb Sewell who was then pro-vice-chancellor for research.

    What struck me about Colin was his humanity and his honesty.

    When our son passed away in 2007 Colin sent us a card that showed his personal sincerity i.e his humanity; this was very much appreciated by us.

    I once said to Colin that it was my wish to retire at age 55 (I was then a Principal Lecturer at De Montfort University), he looked at me and said “why not now”. I never forgot these words i.e his honesty which informed my decision-making.

    Although I only met Colin a few times, on each occasion I came away knowing I had been in the presence of a decent, thoughtful human being. May he rest in peace and his family gain strength in knowing that he will surely be missed by many. One of my favorite people.

  • Professor Herb Sewell
    20. At 2:48PM on 29 June 2022, Professor Herb Sewell wrote

    Herb Sewell, Emeritus Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor.

    Much has already been said on these pages regarding Colin’s outstanding personal and professional achievements, whilst the custodian of the UoN VC role, leading the institution to its position as an internationally acclaimed HEI.

    Accordingly, whilst making my tribute to Sir Colin and giving my sincere condolences to his son, Andrew, daughter, Victoria, and partner Julia Yi, I wish to focus on personal interactions with him. Those interactions showed to me a man of enormous stature, intellect, empathy, drive, and humanity.

    My first direct meeting with Colin was when he chaired the university committee for the appointment of the Chair in Immunology. I remember him peering over his glasses and leaning forward intently whilst I engaged actively and somewhat forcibly with the external assessor. Subsequently when he informed me of my appointment, I remember his warm smile, nod, and comment about my having robust but well-argued and evidenced points to make my view. I learnt from that encounter, as it informed many future interactions with Colin. As a subsequent PVC for research, I noted that rather than being dictatorial, as some have unfairly painted him, he was prepared to entertain and act on alternative or even opposite views if they were well founded. This was a constant driving force for him when making momentous decisions that led to the transformation of the UoN to a globally recognised institution.

    In the Senior Management Board and other committees, he chaired robust, well-argued, and evidenced discussions which were required to drive or oppose suggested changes-many of which emanated from Sir Colin. He was driven and demanding but certainly not a bully or “a divisive figure who was rarely troubled by self-doubt” as claimed in an unbalanced obituary in The Times. Those who read, in my view what was a mean spirited obituary, I hope will have the opportunity of a more balanced and nuanced view of the man from the many unfiltered comments posted online to this UoN tribute book.

    Colin was decisive, intellectually rigorous and demanding of actions, once we had agreed decisions, to move from plans to delivery. He was an exemplar of truly visionary leadership. It was a pleasure and privilege knowing and interacting with him over many years. May he rest in peace.

  • Prof Liz Sockett
    21. At 10:35AM on 06 October 2022, Prof Liz Sockett wrote

    I'm sending my condolences to Sir Colin's family and close colleagues as I'm sorry that I cant attend his memorial service next week, but am glad that UoN is remembering him in the Great Hall. I will think of him then also.

    People have written about his vision, his big enquiring brain and his hard-working drive to improve UoN. I agree that he developed the University for the better, and it was awarded University of the Year during that time. None of us are right all of the time and a University is a large and complex organism to lead. However I always felt him trying and asking questions about what was going well, and how we thought things could be improved.

    My first memory of him is being asked to a meeting in the early 1990s when he, and I, had recently started at the University. The meeting was to revise the University's paperwork, from being written entirely in the male gender to inclusive language. He gathered opinions about the best way to do this and it was quickly done. The meeting was a little daunting, but it was good as a young lecturer, to see at first hand the University asking and then acting.

    My second memory came, several years later, when I was tapped on the shoulder by him and congratulated on becoming a Reader. I was surprised that he knew me, but it made me feel glad to be on the Faculty.

    My third memory, is shared by my research group. After one of his many visits around the campus to see the workings of departments, he made a quip that we all seemed to enjoy what we did. We said he was welcome to come and enjoy science with us at the bench, one day, if he ever had time.

    A few months later, in the summer, he turned up in shirt sleeves as a trainee technician for the day. He diligently did some PCR reactions amplifying DNA and running a gel with one of our PhD students. He did some microscopy with one of our postdocs and plated some lab E.coli with one of our technicians. Our lab assistant took him on a run to the stores, with him pushing the trolley to collect some autoclave bags and bins. He came up to the QMC canteen and bought the lab a coffee, with some smiles as he carried the tray through the queue. We sent him images of his experimental results the next day and he wrote a kind reply mentioning the lab members he'd worked with.

    My final memory is when a former colleague returned again to Nottingham, to do some part-time voluntary work at UoN, having received a terminal diagnosis, but wanting to do something useful in his last months. Sir Colin heard about this and a lovely card arrived for my colleague. The card was entitled "The Road Home" and came with a bottle of wine. It was exactly the right thing and the right words in a tough situation. I know it was received with surprise and very much appreciated.

    Sir Colin may your "Road Home" give you peace knowing that you did your best . Thank you for building UoN with us.

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