Lord Butterworth

Founding Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University
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The Independent Online

John Blackstock Butterworth, lawyer and university administrator: born Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire 13 March 1918; called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn 1947, Honorary Bencher 1989; Fellow, New College, Oxford 1946-63, Dean 1952-56, Bursar 1956-63, Sub Warden 1957-58; Faculty Fellow, Nuffield College 1953-58; Vice-Chancellor, Warwick University 1963-85; CBE 1982; created 1985 Baron Butterworth; chairman, Foundation for Science and Technology 1990-97, president 1997-2003; married 1948 Doris Crawford Elder (one son, two daughters); died Guiting Power, Gloucestershire 19 June 2003.

Jack Butterworth was the founding Vice-Chancellor in 1963 of what was to become, within 20 years, one of the great universities of Europe. The stupendous success of Warwick University owes a great deal to Butterworth's dynamic driving energy and his shrewdness as a picker of people.

The diaries of R.H.S. Crossman, then MP for Coventry East, in whose constituency the new university was built, record on 15 September 1965:

I motored over to Warwick University, which is in a very pleasant Coventry suburb. Astounding progress has been made there in 12 months. They are using very modern techniques of industrialised building and the new sections are being run up incredibly quickly.

To say that progress was astounding was no exaggeration. As Crossman's parliamentary aide as a very young MP, in 1963 I had been to see Butterworth in his temporary accommodation. He explained how he was starting from scratch and what his plans and hopes were for the future. I could not help observing that he was one of the few men who could talk to Crossman, one of the great debaters of the age, and gave as good as he got. But then they were old friends as fellows of New College.

Butterworth was the master of putting the pithy question which would strike at the heart of any matter. Years later, between 1990 and 1997, I would go to meetings of the Foundation for Science and Technology which took place in the home of the Royal Society in London and were followed by dinner and discussion. A wide range of distinguished scientists and businessmen were agreed that, although he was rough on anybody who exceeded a two-minute limit, Butterworth, as the foundation's chairman, was marvellous at making the best use of the time of busy people by forcing anyone who opened their mouth to stick to the point. I think he rather liked being an intellectual bully, but it was for the good of all.

Jack Butterworth's father was a senior manager of the London and North Eastern Railway, and his mother was one of the first women who qualified to teach at senior school level. From Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Mansfield, Butterworth won an open scholarship to the Queen's College, Oxford, and emerged with a brilliant degree in jurisprudence in 1938, going to the chambers of Geoffrey Cross, brother of Rupert Cross, a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and later Professor of Jurisprudence in the university.

Butterworth volunteered for service on the outbreak of the Second World War, undertook gunnery training, was posted to North Devon and then spent the next four years on the island of Hoy in the Orkneys. This was by no means a sedentary home posting. It involved much work and constant alertness to protect the vitally important naval base at Scapa Flow where the battleship Royal Oak had been torpedoed some weeks before Butterworth arrived. What the posting did mean was that he could study in the long, dark Orkney nights, well supplied with books which were not available to his contemporaries in other theatres of war.

On demobilisation he returned to Cross's chambers, but a telephone call from his employer's brother gave him the opportunity in 1946 of becoming a tutor in law at New College. Not only was he a memorable supervisor but he also became Junior Proctor of the university (1950-51), Dean of New College (1952-56) and Bursar (1956-63). Lord Blake, who was Provost of Queen's for two decades, says,

He was a genial, popular and extrovert don known to all in those days as Jolly Jack Butterworth. He had the justified reputation of being a superb tutor in jurisprudence and a most effective university lecturer.

It was Butterworth's administrative experience at Queen's which qualified him in the eyes of the selection committee for the position of Vice-Chancellor with the opportunity of starting the new university of Warwick. The pre-eminence today of Warwick University owes much to his shrewdness in the selection of candidates for key positions, not only professorially but also in administration.

Professor Sir Kumar Bhattacharyya, Professor of Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Warwick, says,

I was particularly lucky to have Jack as my mentor in the early days of the Warwick Manufacturing Group. There is no

doubt that Jack put a huge imprint on the institution, enabling us to develop at a rate and in a way that has been quite staggering in such a short time.

This is testimony indeed from one of the leaders in Europe of marrying industry and academia, which was one of Butterworth's goals in life.

Amazingly he found time to be chairman of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas between 1968 and 1977. He was a leading British delegate to the Commonwealth Education Conference in Lagos, and devoted much energy to making it easier for those from developing countries to do a second degree at British universities. He was a leading figure at the triennial conferences at Canberra in 1971, in Kingston, Jamaica, 1974, Accra, Ghana in 1977 and Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1980.

When on parliamentary delegations I was amazed by the number of people who would ask after Jack Butterworth and the same was true of incoming delegations to the House of Commons, before Butterworth was sent to the House of Lords in 1985. He was one of the comparatively few academics, among many who have been ennobled, who really made a serious contribution to the work of the upper house. Lord Peyton of Yeovil says that

He listened more than he spoke, but when he did speak it was on the basis of considerable knowledge. His questions were always to the point.

Butterworth was a regular attender both of the sub-committees of the Select Committee on Science and Technology and of the committees on the European communities. Not only was he a heavyweight lawyer but he also had a profound knowledge of and interest in the culture and history of the continent. It was a pleasure for my wife and I to travel with him and his wonderfully supportive wife of 55 years, Doris, to Austria with the All-Party Heritage Group. I will never forget being shown the inner sanctum of the Hofburg Palace by the President of Austria, Thomas Klestil. Jack Butterworth and I admired a lovely desk in the president's office. "Yes," said the president. "That was Maria Theresa's desk. I have a desk five times the size of Maria Theresa's desk - but she had an empire 15 times the size of mine!" Butterworth then revealed his scholarship on the laws of the Empress Maria Theresa's Austria.

After he retired from Warwick in 1985, Butterworth's experience and talents were put to use on the Committee of University Efficiency in 1986 and the important committee chaired by Sir Douglas Allen on the review of the University Grants Committee in 1987.

Butterworth realised that the future of the universities and British industry would inevitably become entangled. Only a fortnight ago, at a get-together in the House of Lords for alumni of Warwick University, one of the former student leaders who had given Butterworth a great deal of hassle at the time of the student troubles in the late Sixties, and is now working in the policy unit of 10 Downing Street, praised him for his part in relating science in universities to industry. This was perhaps the greatest contribution that this considerable man made.

Tam Dalyell