Don Varley, 1924-2012

February 23, 2012

For more than 40 years, Don Varley was a key member of the academic and student community at the University of Nottingham, as a senior lecturer, vice-dean of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, hall warden and member of senate.

Mr Varley championed the creation of Nottingham's first mixed hall and remained its warden for nearly 20 years, as part of his drive to persuade the university's institutions to move with the times. Anthony Kent, professor of physics at Nottingham, who served as deputy warden of Rutland Hall during the 1980s, recalls being asked by Mr Varley, during his interview for the position, what he believed the advantages of a mixed hall were. "I said that I thought it was a more normal environment," Professor Kent said, "to which he replied: 'Do you think there is anything normal about this place?' This amused the interview committee."

The manner in which Mr Varley managed Rutland Hall, delegating responsibility to students to provide them with an opportunity to develop personally, was considered innovative. Professor Kent said: "It was interesting to see how the students...developed and grew in confidence."

Mr Varley joined the university as assistant lecturer in the department of social, political and industrial administration in 1949, going on to become senior lecturer in 1965 and vice-dean of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences in 1970 before retiring in 1990. Shortly after his retirement, the Don Varley Enterprise Scholarship was founded. It is awarded annually to undergraduates for the purpose of obtaining work experience of business enterprise.

David Greenaway, Nottingham's vice-chancellor, praised Mr Varley's service to the university: "He will be warmly remembered as an educator and mentor." Mr Varley is the only former warden whose portrait hangs in Rutland Hall, and he was a recipient of the Ordo Caligulae, the highest award of the University of Nottingham Students' Union, for distinguished service in the interests of students.

Regarded by colleagues as "a pioneer in developing student-centred and activity-based learning", he regularly held management workshops in his home. Johnnie Johnson, professor of decision and risk analysis at the University of Southampton, said: "He offered students the opportunity of taking part in novel outdoor activities, such as 'escaping' over a roof from Don's garden and avoiding the guards on duty (I was usually one) with limited resources, such as rope, tennis balls and canvas sheets." The success of these events led Mr Varley to design training courses for graduates to develop key management skills. Professor Johnson enlisted Mr Varley's expertise when setting up similar courses at Southampton. "We really miss Don at these events; he really oozed enthusiasm and he is very sorely missed," he said.

Mr Varley died on 15 January. He is survived by his wife, Joan, and four children.

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