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Durham University News

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Dr Sidney Holgate 1918-2003: First Master of Grey College

(21 May 2003)

The universally respected Dr Sidney Holgate, who served the University of Durham in a very rare succession of roles as a lecturer, senior administrator and as Master of a college, has died at the age of 84.

Dr Holgate, a mathematician, was one of a key group of senior figures who helped to set the foundations for the modern University of Durham. It began with the expansion of activities in Durham both before and after its operations in Newcastle became a separate university in 1963. It continued in the 1980s when he chaired a major review of the University, known as the Holgate Report. It led to academic restructuring and the reduction of the number of faculties from seven to three.

His association with the University spanned nearly eight decades from the 1930s to the present day. His three most prominent positions were as Secretary of the Durham Colleges, the first Master of Grey College from its foundation in 1959 to his retirement in 1980, and also as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1964-69.

The current Vice-Chancellor, Sir Kenneth Calman, led the tributes: “Syd Holgate was a remarkable man who helped to shape the University of Durham as we know it today. His reputation as a dedicated, clear-thinking and caring servant of the University will live on. Many generations of students and staff have benefited from his advice and guidance.”

A retired Principal of the College of St Hild & St Bede, Dr Vernon Armitage, a friend and colleague for 44 years who joined Grey College as a Tutor in 1959, said: “For me he was the man who best represented the ideal of the collegiate system in the way he worked and the care he showed for students. He was also impossible to beat at snooker, was near-international standard at bridge, and a top class cricketer with an incredible memory for the details of cricket matches over many decades. A wonderful man.”

While building up Grey College, Dr Holgate remained a strong advocate of the Durham collegiate system as a whole. He kept up links with his own undergraduate college (Hatfield) and helped to oversee the development of other new colleges that followed Grey, particularly Trevelyan (1966) and Collingwood (1973). He was later honoured by Grey College with the naming of a new extension and conference facilities as Holgate House.

Dr Holgate was widely known, and signed himself, as Syd. He first came to Durham as an undergraduate and held an Open Scholarship at Hatfield College in the 1930s, and with a brief spell as a schoolmaster in his native Nottinghamshire, he spent the rest of his life in the university and the city. He gained First Class Honours in Mathematics and later obtained an MA and PhD. He took up a lectureship in mathematics (1942-46) and then a senior administrative post as Secretary of the Durham Colleges (1946-59). This was in the days when there was a federal University office and separate divisional offices in both Durham and Newcastle.

Changes in the university sector saw new colleges created in Durham, beginning with Grey in 1959, and the eventual separation into two distinct universities in Durham and Newcastle. Dr Holgate became Master of Grey and is remembered for his outstanding leadership.

Among his wider roles, he helped to establish local radio in the North East, first as Chairman of the Council of BBC Radio Durham and Vice-Chairman for its successor, Radio Newcastle, and he also served on the Academic Advisory Committee of the Open University. The OU awarded him an honorary degree in 1980.

He had an enduring love of cricket, bridge, railways and was a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Durham. He and his wife Belle, who survives him, had their 60th wedding anniversary last year.

There will be a private funeral and a memorial service to be arranged at a later date.

Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Grey College Trust. Cheques should be made out to ‘University of Durham’ and sent to Miss J E Bushby, Master’s Secretary, Grey College, Durham DH1 3LG.

Previous news item about Dr Holgate

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