James Walsh, 1930-2008

March 13, 2008

James (Jim) Walsh was an administrator with a touch of the Bohemian, who helped steer the University of Leeds through turbulent times in the 1980s.

Dr Walsh, who died on 30 January, aged 77, helped run Leeds for 13 years as its registrar, serving as a steadfast rock, his colleagues said, while a string of vice-chancellors came and went, and while knotty issues such as cuts dominated the agenda.

He was also instrumental in helping to professionalise the business of university administration.

Dr Walsh was born in Lancashire in 1930 and studied English at Leeds before taking up his first administrator's job at the University of Manchester, where by 1969 he had worked his way up to become the institution's assistant registrar.

In 1971, he came back across the Pennines to become deputy registrar at Leeds. He was promoted to registrar in 1979, heading one of the two arms of the university's administrative structure (which is different now).

It was a difficult time for the institution, said Roger Gair, the current university secretary, who worked with Dr Walsh for 12 years until his retirement in 1992. It was a period when cuts in public funding meant staff losses, efficiency savings and restructuring - and the university had to contend with the death of its vice-chancellor Lord Edward Boyle.

"He really helped keep the place going and negotiated a way through," Mr Gair said, recalling a "clear-thinking person who had tremendous judgment and perspective". He possessed the important trait of being able to read the "academic runes", thereby straddling the administrative and academic worlds, he added.

From early in his career Dr Walsh also took a conspicuous role in bringing university administrators together to discuss matters of common interest and was a staunch advocate of their formal training and development. He was a founding member and first secretary of the Meeting of University Academic Administrative Staff. Established in 1961, today it is known as the Association of University Administrators and represents 850 members at 85 institutions.

After his retirement - which saw him conferred with the title of emeritus registrar along with an honorary doctorate - he could be found in the University of Leeds library studying the history of higher education.

Mr Gair recalled Dr Walsh as a man without pomposity or a big ego, as evidenced in his choice of battered old cars over the flashy variety, and as someone who had wide interests in the arts, politics and the "life of mind". He is survived by his wife, the actor and writer Vanessa Rosenthal.


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