Product has been added to the basket

John Staveley Watson 1945-2014


Open University technician with a wide range of technical expertise and artistic flair who was a stalwart of the OU for a third of a century.

(Picture: John Watson finds one of his palaeoenvironment reconstructions on display at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

John Staveley Watson died of a heart attack last October a few days before his 69th birthday.  Born in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1945, he attended Scarborough Boys High School before being employed as a laboratory technician in the electroplating industry.  Following redundancy, he became self-employed and undertook private study to gain a place at Hull University in 1973.  After successfully completing his BSc  (Hons) in Geology, he took up teacher training, but decided to look elsewhere for permanent employment.  While demonstrating at an Open University (OU) residential school based in Durham, he heard about a technician’s post in the Department of Earth Sciences at the OU in Milton Keynes.  There he remained for the rest of his working life, gaining a reputation for being extremely resourceful, dependable and meticulous in all that he did, and rising to a senior technical position.

As a geochemistry technician, John helped develop several analytical systems and was soon responsible for day-to-day running of neutron activation, atomic absorption and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis equipment.  His range of practical skills was valued in research and teaching, and he took part in collecting trips for teaching and later, for research from locations across Britain and Europe: colleagues found him an excellent field assistant and travelling companion.

In the early 1990s John prepared several international geochemical reference materials in collaboration with BRGM (Bureau de Recherches Géologique et Minières).  When the GeoPT geoanalytical proficiency testing programme was initiated in 1994, he was involved at the outset, and for 20 years was a key member of the team responsible for collecting and preparing many test samples.  John’s quiet manner, sound technical knowledge and desire to help others gained him much respect and many friends among geoanalysts.

John was responsible for XRF facilities at the OU for over 25 years.  He relished training students and researchers, and delighted in helping foreign visitors develop a better understanding of the idiosyncrasies of our language and customs.  Amongst his wider research interests were major archaeological projects, including provenancing of the Stonehenge bluestones and Bronze Age stone grave goods.  Although he retired three years ago he continued in a 'visiting' role at the OU, maintaining an XRF analysis facility for students, academics and external customers.

His remarkable artistic abilities were put to practical use producing computer-assisted pictorial reconstructions of ancient geological environments and landscapes: images that featured in several OU courses.  He was also involved in taking aerial photographs of OU residential school field locations in northern England, which provided the basis of a photographic book produced with the OU Geological Society for OU Earth Science students.  His outside interests included an abiding fascination for military history, militaria and weaponry, and he was a keen genealogist.

John was a stalwart of the OU Earth Sciences Department for over 36 years; a fellow of the Geological Society since 1977; and a member of the Yorkshire Geological Society since 1975.  He will be remembered with considerable affection by those who knew him and will be sorely missed. 

Dr Peter Webb (Friend and colleague for over 35 years)