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Vale Don Watts, our foundation Vice Chancellor

May 24, 2022

Flags at Bond University are flying at half-mast in honour of inaugural Vice Chancellor Don Watts who died in Perth aged 88 yesterday.

The esteemed educator studied, taught and led at leading universities around the world but considered Bond his ‘finest contribution to education’.

Professor Watts arrived on the Gold Coast in July 1987 ahead of the opening of the university and oversaw the recruitment of academics and construction of the campus.

The first 322 students - the 892 cohort - began their studies on May 15, 1989. Professor Watts and his wife Michelle distinguished themselves by taking care of the students’ academic and personal needs, setting Bond on its journey to leading the nation in student experience.

While focussed on student achievements, the couple reminded students to enjoy their time at university and participate in the social life of campus. It was at the suggestion of students that the university’s tavern be named Don’s.

The current Vice Chancellor and President of Bond University, Tim Brailsford, said Professor Watts' contribution to the university was 'immense and unparalleled'. 

"Don worked tirelessly to ensure that Bond’s opening was a grand and successful occasion," Professor Brailsford said.

"The university has kept in touch with Michelle over recent years as Don’s health has waned. I have passed on our collective condolences and sincerest sympathy to Michelle, their sons Tim and Andrew and their families.

"This is a sad day, but let us remember a great person - a leader and one who devoted their life to bettering the lives of others through the gift of education. Vale Don."

Foundation student and Chair of the Bond Alumni Advisory Board, Jennifer Cronin, said alumni would be forever grateful for the vision, pride and passion that Professor Watts instilled to build Australia’s best university for student outcomes.

“Don’s ability to lead with compassion and care was ahead of his generation,” Dr Cronin said.

“He followed my international and academic career, and that of many others, for the past 33 years and continued to be a mentor for life.

“He was a formidable and yet generous spirit, and will be sadly missed.”

Chancellor Annabelle Bennett said Professor Watts’ legacy would never be forgotten.

“As part of the pioneering team that built and launched the university, Don’s leadership was invaluable, and I am sure that every student who has ever enrolled at Bond is very grateful to him,” Dr Bennett said.

Professor Donald Walter Watts AM was born on April 1, 1934 and went on to became an internationally recognised expert in chemistry.

He enrolled at the University of Western Australia in 1951 at the age of 16 to study a Bachelor of Science and attained a PhD before moving to University College London on a CSIRO Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in 1959.

It was in London that he reconnected with his soon-to be wife Michelle Yeomans.

The pair had met years earlier when they were 12 and 10 respectively. They married in 1960 and had two sons, Andrew and Timothy.

Professor Watts returned to UWA in 1962 as a Senior Lecturer in Physical and Inorganic Chemistry, rising to a Readership in 1968 and a Personal Chair in 1978.

In 1980 he was appointed Director of the Western Australian Institute of Technology which became Curtin University of Technology, with Professor Watts as inaugural Vice Chancellor.

During his academic career he spent time at the University of Southern California as a Fulbright Scholar, at the University of Toronto and the Australian National University.

Outside of academe, Professor Watts held a number of distinguished positions including a seat on the Australian Science and Technology Council, Executive Chairman of Northern Territory Trade Development Zone, Board positions on the Western Australia Institute of Sport and Queensland Academy of Sport, and Chairman of the Australian Space Council.

Professor Watts’ achievements and contributions were recognised in the 1998 Australia Day Honours and he was the first recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Bond University in 1990.

Following a period of time working for the Northern Territory Government, Professor Watts retired in 1995 and returned to Perth.

The Watts visitied Bond University regularly, attending the 25th Anniversary Ball in 2014. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2020.