Obituary: Eric Halladay

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The Independent Online
Eric Halladay was the defining figure of Durham University rowing for a generation and a half.

In academic life he was thought of as the Red Adair of college leadership, being progressively Master of Grey College at Durham University from 1980, Rector of St Aidan's from 1990 and finally Principal of St Chad's from 1991. From 1982 until 1988 he was chairman of the Durham Regatta. The university Boat Club is still, after his going, a gentle, pleasant place, but not a soft touch, its graduates not only better oarsmen but also better people.

The son of a vicar, Halladay was educated at Durham School before St John's College, Cambridge. After a year of theology at Ripon Hall, an Anglican College in Oxford, he taught history at Exeter School. In 1960 he moved to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to teach military history and to coach the Boat Club, with which he won his first Henley prize, the Ladies' Plate, in 1963. A year later he was at Durham lecturing in history and beginning his thirty years of devotion to the Boat Club.

He specialised in African history, especially the slave trade, and published The Building of Modern Africa (with D.D. Rooney, 1966) and The Emergent Continent: Africa in the Nineteenth Century (1972).

Although from 1980, when he became Master of Grey College, he was effectively a part-time academic, he remained a key member of the department. When briefly the historians were left without a professor to lead them, "Eric was the one all of us trusted to deal with the authorities. He would represent us forcibly and well without turning anything to unfair advantage," said one of his former colleagues.

It was on much the same recommendation that he was elected a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in 1993. This was, perhaps, the honour he most enjoyed. At the same time he was chairman of the board of the Rowing Hall of Fame, which is to be part of the River and Rowing Museum due to open in Henley next year.

Although purportedly in retirement from 1994, he brought his thorough historical method to a series of short biographies of the men (mostly) who had shaped English rowing, much of it arising from his research for Rowing in England, published in 1990.

In the boathouse, as well as in college, Halladay had the art of deftly absorbing the locker room coarseness and other excesses of the roaring men and keeping the club on a even keel. He was much too clever at working with people ever to let them come to blows and achieved a Corinthian excellence most by the example of his own discipline and charm.

Halladay was known to softer southerners by his perpetual uniform of corduroys covered by waterproof over-trousers tucked into black gum boots. He moved with the times when his buff duffle coat gave way about 20 years ago to a green Barbour jacket which, subjected to the same hard Tyne weather that turned his head a permanent walnut brown, hung loose and soft from his shoulders; always underneath this rural shabbiness was a clean collar and tie. Over 30 winters he puffed at his pipe and part-coached and part- offered a whole culture of tolerant sporting honesty to his crews.

Once ashore, where he stood still, the floor would gradually be carpeted with Swan Vestas, although, ever conscientious, he tried to stuff them back in the box, as the pipe cradled in the left hand was used as a baton to conduct the telling of yarns and homilies.

For his funeral a packed local train from Newcastle dropped a cohort of dark- suited men on the platform with Corbridge on the opposite bank of the Tyne. As they walked over the bridge to the town, whole crews reformed for the first time since they had raced to hear Homer quoted: "Place on my tomb the oar with which I rowed with my friends when I was among living men".

Eric Halladay, historian: born 9 July 1930; Senior History Master, Exeter School 1956-60; Senior Lecturer in History, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst 196-64; Senior Tutor and part-time Lecturer in History, Grey College, Durham University 1964-80, Vice-Master 1967-80, Master 1980-89, Rector 1989-91; Chairman, Durham Regatta 1982-88; Rector, St Aidan's College, Durham University 1990-91; Principal, St Chad's College, Durham University 1991-94; Steward, Henley Royal Regatta 1993; married 1956 Margaret Baister (one son, two daughters); died 19 July 1997.