Principal emeritus Ronald Watts dies at age 86

Remembering the rich life of Queen’s 15th Principal

A memorial will be held on Oct. 30 in Wallace Hall.
A memorial will be held on Oct. 30 in Wallace Hall.
Supplied by Queen's Archives

Principal Ronald Lampman Watts, the 15th Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s, passed away on Oct. 9 at the age of 86. 

During his time as principal from 1974 to 1984, Watts oversaw the building of multiple residences and faculty buildings, including the nine-story medical sciences project, Botterell Hall.

Watts is survived by his wife, Donna, and his many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. 

At 45 years old, Watts was the youngest serving principal in nearly 100 years — since the time of Principal Emeritus George Monro Grant, who served from 1877 to 1902.

Dr. Watts served during a difficult decade, with restricted student growth and reductions in public funding. According to History of Queen’s: An Overview, Principal Watts called his term at Queen’s one of “constraint, consolidation, and constructive change.” 

Despite facing difficulties, Dr. Watts directed a campaign to cut costs, including reducing energy consumption, rather than sacrificing the quality of Queen’s teaching and research. 

In his second term, he created plans for the Queen’s National Scholars program, which sought to attract “exceptional” young faculty members to the university. Watts also made plans for the original School of Policy Studies, which was founded in 1988.  

Watts (centre) saw the school through an era of change and development. 

Prior to assuming the role of principal, Watts had a long history at Queen’s. Arriving in 1955, he served as a philosophy lecturer for six years. 

In 1961, Watts moved to the Department of Political and Economic Science while working as a residence don in McNeill House. He then became Dean of Arts and Science in 1969 before he was rose to the position of principal. 

Education marked Watts’ life. He was born in Japan in 1929, where his parents were Canadian Anglican missionaries, but came to Canada to continue his studies.

Watts attended secondary school at Trinity College School in Port Hope. Following his graduation, he enrolled at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where he acquired a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in the Class of 1952. 

A gifted student, Watts won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and went on to study at Oxford to further his education in political studies. 

He spent 10 years studying in England, acquiring a Bachelor of Arts in 1954, a Masters in 1959 and his PhD in 1962. Watts married his lifelong partner, Donna Paisley, in 1954.

As a student, Watts focused on the comparative study of federal political systems. He eventually became one of the country’s leading experts on federalism and a leader in the study of British Dominions. 

In his personal life, Watts had a fierce fascination towards aviation and sailing, according to a Kingston Whig-Standard memorial.

He competed in the Canadian Olympic Trials in 1964, in the Dragon class, and was honoured as a Chief Class Officer in Kingston during the 1967 Montreal Olympics. 

After his term as Principal, Watts became the director of Queen’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations. He also became a senior adviser to the federal government on constitutional affairs.

During the same time period, he served as a consultant to other governments across the world, including Kenya, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Pakistan, the Solomon Islands, Yugoslavia, India and the United Kingdom.

In Canadian politics, Watts was noted for his time as an advisor to Ontario Premier David Peterson on the subject of the Meech Lake Accord. 

Watts published several books during his lifetime, which spanned topics of multicultural societies, public administration and comparisons of the federal systems of the Commonwealth and elsewhere. 

He was awarded five honourary degrees for his work. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979, a Companion of the Order in 2000 and was honoured as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada in 1997. 

In memory of Dr. Watts, a memorial service will be held on Oct. 30, at 11 a.m. in Wallace Hall.


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