Oriel College flew its flag at half-mast yesterday in tribute to Dr Mark Whittow, an archaeologist and medieval historian, who died in the multi-vehicle crash on the M40 last Saturday night.
Dr Whittow was to take up his new position as Provost of the college in September 2018, having been a Fellow at Corpus Christi College until now.
Dr Stephen Cowley, President of Corpus, said: “Mark was a deeply likable man, someone who was generous with his time and concern for other people – one of those rare individuals who plays such a large part in conjuring that mysterious alchemy that helps complicated communities like ours to work.”
After studying Modern History at Trinity College, Whittow’s passion for Mediterranean archaeology took him to Turkey in the 1990s where he surveyed Byzantine castles and administered for the Council for British Research in the Levant and the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara.
However, Whittow always asserted that “my chief achievement has been to foster a happy community of enthusiastic young historians.” He returned to Oxford in 1998 as a Fellow in History at St Peter’s College.
Adele Curness, a DPhil student at St John’s College and President of the Oxford University Byzantine Society, has had her entire academic career overseen by Dr Whittow, as both her first year tutor and, eventually, her doctoral supervisor.
“His tutorials, fuelled by iced buns, strong coffee and, occasionally, snuff, were always, in his own words, ‘a hoot’ – I hope that I am able to have my own students look forward to tutorials as much as I looked forward to his” she said.
“His guidance and support brought out the best in all his students. It was clear within seconds of meeting him that he would do anything for you and this kindness inspired in turn a personal loyalty among all who knew him which was inseparable from their love of history itself.”
“Oxford’s community of Byzantinists grows larger every year and Mark’s commitment to the next generation of scholars in the subject was unwavering. I and so many others will miss him enormously.”
Dr Whittow’s loss will not only be felt among his fellow medievalists. His work with the OUSU as Senior Proctor and his role as a Senior Member of the Oxford University Conservative Association meant he cultivated close relationships beyond the History Faculty.
“He never failed to supply a voice of calm at times of crisis, and of reassurance in moments of doubt. Many ex-Presidents recall with fondness and gratitude his preparedness to put other matters aside to discuss personal as well as political concerns. He also taught many Members of the Association over the years, and was much loved as an educator and mentor,” OUCA said in a statement.
Eden Bailey, who was OUSU’s Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs during Whittow’s time as Proctor, added: “He was always really supportive of all of the SU officers, and I reckon Marina and I saw him probably every week of our shared times in office, and valued his humour, wisdom, and sense of justice.”
“His support for us as officers translated to his advocacy for students at large, and indeed all those across the University community. I was so delighted to hear of his appointment as Provost of Oriel, and his is a huge loss to students, staff, and academic community.”
Many other friends, colleagues and pupils have joined the University in expressing their condolences via Twitter.