Being vice-chancellor of a sandstone university does not seem like the path to a long life. First Alan Gilbert died far too young, and now Gavin Brown. He had a heart attack and died after his Christmas lunch, aged 68.
In my time as David Kemp’s higher education adviser in the late 1990s, Brown like Gilbert stood out among the vice-chancellors. Gilbert was an entrepreneur and visionary type, and you always knew what he thought. Brown struck me as a canny character; the Scottish accent and a left eye that did not follow the right distracting you from what he was up to.
Though Brown did what VCs needed to do in the 1990s in pursuing full-fee students – including, controversially, domestic undergradates – in other respects a cigar-smoking, racetrack-going academic seems like someone from another, more leisurely and less ‘performance’ oriented era. We probably won’t see any more people like him leading the top universities.
Gavin Brown, RIP.