David Parkin on the passing of a legend

I’M sometimes asked who is the “greatest”, most “interesting” or most “inspiring” individual I’ve been fortunate to meet and interview.

There is only one answer to all of those questions: Victor Watson.
Victor died at the age of 86 on Wednesday.
He was an incredible, wonderful man.
I can’t begin to summon the kind of words needed to explain his numerous talents, but suffice to say he was a very special individual.
He was a unique combination of talent, humility, personality, drive and wisdom that you rarely find in one human being.
You could have a go at listing Victor’s achievements, but there wouldn’t be enough space.
How he was never knighted, I will never know. A CBE seems scant acknowledgement for not just what he achieved in business, but what he put back into the community.
But unlike many who receive gongs, that wasn’t what motivated Victor, or what he went looking for.
He wouldn’t have kow-towed or shmoozed politicians: everyone was equal to him.
Unless you were tyranical printing tycoon Robert Maxwell, who twice tried to buy Victor’s family printing business, Waddingtons, and who twice was repelled by the great man’t unique combination of leadership, humour and quiet stoicism.
I always loved the story about young Victor and his brother John being given a board game to play during the 1930s which their grandfather (also called Victor Hugo Watson) was thinking of importing to the UK from America. It was called Monopoly.
Many decades later Victor went to London to unveil a plaque at The Angel, Islington, on the spot where his grandfather and his secretary stopped for a cup of tea at at Lyon’s tea house while searching for inspiration when choosing the names for the various sites on the Monopoly board.
Waddingtons introduced Cluedo and made playing cards and under Victor’s leadership became a very successful printing business.
Victor was was one of the most accomplished and witty public speakers I have ever seen. He did a great double act with his brother John, a former Tory MP.
They were like a charming, hilarious Watson tag team.
In his later years Victor was presented with many awards recognising his achievements and as he rose to his feet to say a few words of thanks, many in the audience who didn’t know him were slightly nervous that this elderly, frail man could cope with the demands of such a challenge.
Then he spoke and rolled back the years.
I remember when he spoke at the Variety Club awards in Leeds several years ago he told the audience he had recently had a pacemaker fitted (whether he had or not, it made a good story) and he said it hadn’t hindered his life in the slightest – except when he made love the garage doors opened.
I was lucky enough to play golf with Victor on two occasions. Once at Alwoodley with his Leeds Chamber of Commerce colleagues Richard Mansell and Tom Morton.
I was playing typically badly and I remember Victor sidling up to me on the tee and saying: “Mary had a little lamb, she kept it in a bucket. Every time the lamb got out, Mary said…oh dear.”
I laughed, relaxed immediately and chuckled all the way round the rest of the course.
Then when I played at Moortown – where he was captain, chairman and president of the course famous for hosting the 1929 Ryder Cup – with Victor he told a great story about how when he was captain in 1976 he invited Tom Watson, the then current Open Champion, to play 36 invited guests.
They called it: “The Watsons versus The Rest of the World.”
They don’t make them like Victor, more’s the pity.
A man with immense talent, humility, humour and civic pride. Someone whose first thought was what he could give, rather than what he could take.
He was part of a golden generation in Leeds along with Leslie Silver, who died recently, and the late Arnold Ziff.
We won’t see their like again. But I wish we could.

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