Bill Clarke, provost of the Jordanstown and Belfast campuses of the University of Ulster for the past six years, died suddenly while officiating at a Police Service of Northern Ireland graduation ceremony.
Professor Clarke would have retired this month after a career at the university that spanned more than 30 years. In 1976, he joined Ulster Polytechnic as principal lecturer in marketing, becoming a senior lecturer at UU when it was established in 1984. He was promoted to a personal chair in 1993.
Professor Clarke graduated in economics from Queen's University Belfast and went on to take a masters at the University of Reading. He then joined the Milk Marketing Board as a research officer before joining the Government Economic Service in the Department of Agriculture. He returned to the province to work for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the tobacco company Gallaghers and British American Tobacco before moving into higher education.
From 1987 to 1994, he was head of department for business and management at UU's Coleraine campus, transforming it into a broad-based unit with a significant expansion of courses, staff and students. In 1994, he returned to UU's Jordanstown campus to lead the new School of Management and later the Management Institute.
Professor Clarke represented UU on many bodies, including the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the governing body of North Down and Ards Institute of Further and Higher Education and the South Belfast Community Relations Forum. He recently became chairman of the governing body of Northern Regional College.
Fellow provost Alan Sharp said Professor Clarke was brilliantly suited to the provost's role. "He was so good with people," he said. "He was very genial, and always made people welcome, particularly if they weren't familiar with the university. He was also very measured and shrewd. When I became provost, I sought a lot of advice from him."
Richard Barnett, Ulster's vice-chancellor, said Professor Clarke was respected by students for combining firmness with fairness. "When it came to matters of student discipline, Bill was always able to distinguish between instances of high jinks and cases of serious misdemeanour, and deal with them appropriately," he said.
Professor Sharp said their last conversation was by phone, two days before Professor Clarke died. Professor Clarke jokingly complained that Professor Sharp was attending the British Universities rugby final at Twickenham while he had to attend an appointments panel. "We parted laughing, and that was how we always parted."
Professor Clarke died on 25 April and is survived by his wife, Marion, and their three daughters.