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Graham Rodmell: Durham student who became the University’s PVC

(26 February 2003)

Past and present members of the University of Durham are mourning the loss of a great friend and colleague, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor Dr Graham Rodmell, who has died after a short illness.

Dr Rodmell (68), who retired from full-time work in 1994 and then did part-time teaching, had a career spanning more than 30 years at Durham, but his association with the University goes back half a century. He was an undergraduate (1953-57) at University College - the Castle - and gained a first class BA honours degree before staying on to work for a PhD. After a brief spell in school-teaching he held lecturing posts at the University of Nottingham before returning to Durham as a Lecturer in French in 1966. He specialised in the novels and drama of the 18th century.

His time at Durham encompassed academic work in the Department of French, welfare tutoring for students in St Aidan’s College and several years as part of the University’s overall planning and management team, both as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and later as a Pro-Vice-Chancellor (1988-94). For the final two years he was also Sub-Warden, the immediate deputy to the Vice-Chancellor.

As a Pro-Vice-Chancellor his portfolios included teaching and learning. It was a period when the university sector was introducing methods of assessing teaching standards and quality assurance. Dr Rodmell played a major part in establishing both processes in Durham and later acted as an Institutional Auditor for the Quality Assurance Agency at national level. He also had responsibility for nurturing and extending the University’s international links, particularly in Europe, and in 1992 he helped to bring about the creation of an International Office with a full-time Director.

He and his late wife Barbara, who taught drama for many years at New College in Durham, served as tutors at St Aidan’s College, helping groups of students to settle in and deal with their welfare. He also chaired the college’s governing body for some years and in 1997 he published a history of the first 50 years of St Aidan’s as a college to celebrate its anniversary.

Dr Rodmell was a large and imposing figure with a full-beard who brought a considerable presence, laced with bonhomie, to formal discussions and casual conversation alike, whether in the corridors of power, the golf-course or over the odd pint. Colleagues in French and many other departments of the University remember him as a champion of high academic standards, with a keen analytical and critical attitude, applied with equal vigour to the University’s own procedures and administration - something he did not relax when he joined the central team.

Current Vice-Chancellor Sir Kenneth Calman said: “I never had the privilege to work with Dr Rodmell, but I know from others what a dedicated university man he was. He made a spirited contribution to department and college life, which helped to ensure that Durham kept its core academic values intact, while moving with the times in how it organised its activities.”

He was the University’s representative on the Governing Body of Sherburn Hospital until the end of 2001 when he became a co-opted member.

Dr Rodmell leaves a daughter and two sons. His funeral is private but there will be an occasion for friends and colleagues to celebrate his life at a later date.

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