Watsonians Linked - In Memory

In Memory of Rod Slater, Ex Corde Caritas

Rod SlaterI am deeply sorry to announce the passing of one of my predecessors, Rod Slater, a pillar of the Watson’s community that he loved so much. He served 25 years teaching at Watson’s - most of that time as Head of Modern Languages - and also as President of the Watsonian Club. Rod passed away suddenly on Friday, near his wife of 50 years, Sylvie, and his son Sandy, after a final swim on the Île de Ré, France - an island he loved, in a country he had adopted.

Rod’s boundless energy, intellect, fun and passion for teaching will leave a lasting legacy at Watson’s, as is evident from the outpouring of sympathy and reminiscences from all the pupils and colleagues whose lives he touched. He was a kind, caring, funny man who took time to understand and help all those whom he met. His sons inform me that it was impossible to walk in the street or go to the supermarket without former pupils telling him how much he had changed their lives. It was like being in the presence of a rockstar.

Rod came to Watson’s after an education at Strathallan and Cambridge, and teaching positions in Huntingdon and West Calder. He was recruited by then Headmaster Sir Roger Young, who immediately spotted and valued his instinctive - sometimes unconventional - style of teaching. Rod believed in, and sometimes fought for, teaching in order to foster lifelong intellectual and cultural curiosity, and not just to achieve the robotic passing of exams. His sharp intellect made him a perfect teacher for top sets, but he often said he preferred teaching those who needed more help, and he had a gift for helping the weaker pupils thrive. He was endlessly generous with his time, acting as a formal and informal adviser to countless pupils and tutees. Indeed, he was helping a neighbour with his UCAS form just days before his passing. 

He was funny, and brilliant. As his great friend and former colleague Eleanor Rogers wrote in his farewell piece in The Watsonian “There was no sharper brain in the (modern languages) department at dealing with any last-minute crisis, whether it was of his own or others’ making.” And it is true that his self-identified procrastination was legendary.

Rod’s impact was just as great outside the classroom. His love of languages and of different cultures prompted him to lead about 23 language exchanges at Watson’s, taking pupils all over Europe, including some of his favourite exchanges to Munich, Paris and the Île de Ré, where he was to pass away years later. Inspired by his own warm welcome as a language assistant in Germany in 1970, Rod looked after scores of foreign assistants teaching at Watson’s and living in Edinburgh, often hosting them at home with Sylvie before they got on their own feet.

With a great passion for Scottish mountaineering, one of his favourite parts of Watson’s was S3 Projects and he led groups almost every year, many a human pyramid being built wherever he was. He was particularly fond of the Hebrides, the birthplace of his mother, and Torridon, where he had been just a few weeks ago. He loved drama, directing many whole-school productions including two Brecht plays, Oh What a Lovely WarOur Town, as well as award-winning French Institute performances and hilarious comedy reviews.

Even after his retirement, Rod remained deeply involved with Watson’s to the end, continuing to teach part-time in various capacities. He served as President of the Watsonian Club from 2010 to 2011, relishing his task of cementing the Watsonian diaspora, and travelling all over the country with Sylvie to speak at dinners in his witty style. Rod also threw himself into honouring the history of the school. He started - and conducted - an extensive series of video interviews with past pupils and teachers. His own interview, conducted by his great friend Graham Gibb, can be found here. He was particularly proud of a memorial service he produced for his mentor, Sir Roger Young, which was attended by hundreds of people.

Rod is survived by his wife Sylvie, whose hospitality to and friendship with so many in the Watson’s community is legendary. He was so proud of his two sons, both Watsonians: Andrew (Class of 2005) whose rugby games he almost never missed, and Sandy (Class of 1995) who was the School Dux and Hamilton Fellow. Rod will be sorely missed and leaves Watson’s a better place - fortunate to have had him in its community for so long. 

Given the situation with COVID-19, the immediate funeral will be with close French family only. However, Rod - true to style - would have been eager to have an upbeat and inclusive celebration in Scotland, and that is what the Slaters will arrange as soon as possible. Further details of a bursary in Rod’s name will also follow.

A charming and passionate man with a relentless enthusiasm for all things Watsons and Watsonian, we will miss him very much indeed.

Rod's obituary is now available to view: https://www.scotsman.com/news/people/obituary-rod-slater-inspirational-scottish-teacher-2957581

We are honoured that the Slater family have established a bursary in Rod's name, at Watson’s, to help pupils experience the Scottish outdoors Rod loved so much. To find out more or to donate to this fund please contact development@gwc.org.uk. Ex Corde Caritas

Ex Corde Caritas

Johnny J Bacigalupo
President, The Watsonian Club