An inquest into the death of James Morwood, a highly respected Classics lecturer and tutor at Wadham College, concluded yesterday that the academic drowned last September.
The 73-year-old was holidaying in Ouranoupoli, Greece with his friend and colleague Stephen Anderson when he went for what would be his last swim off the beach near his hotel.
In a statement read out at the inquest in Oxford, Anderson recounted: “We were staying at the Eagles Palace Hotel in Ouranoupoli. James had been once before and he was keen to return.
“On September 10, after breakfast, we decided to do the beach. James remembered well the mind-boggling clarity of the water, so off we went.
“We paddled a bit at first but found the water surprisingly cold. Later James decided to go for a swim a bit further out but the area by us was too rocky and stoney to enter so he went further up the beach.
“After 10 minutes I saw him swimming further out than I expected him to go. I got to the end of my chapter and I then found it was too stoney as well.
“As I walked along I knew something was going on. Some people pulled a body out and to my horror it was James. There was a nurse and a doctor from Glasgow on the beach but their efforts were to no avail as we were told he was already dead.
“James’ body stayed on the shore, covered in blue towels and I was whisked away off to town to make statements to the coastguard. I spent the rest of my time in Greece writing letters and informing people that needed to know.
“I met his brother at Gatwick Airport and returned his belongings.”
Morwood’s brother, Bryan Morwood, also presented evidence at the inquest. He confirmed that he had been away in Colorado at the time of his brother’s death. He returned to the UK after receiving the tragic news from Anderson.
When asked by Oxfordshire Assistant Coroner, Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp, about the process of repatriating Morwood’s body from Greece, the brother said: “That is a long story. Luckily James had travel insurance so I was able to arrange repatriation through them. Originally they [Greek authorities] told me I would have to go out there to reclaim the body.
“What was actually expected of me was to slip them a few Euros to make that all go better. The mortuary in Thessalonika tried it on with the insurance companies and it all took weeks.”
Rhodes-Kemp concluded a verdict of death by drowning. She said afterwards: “It is amazing how many people suddenly jump out and try to help in situations like this. Two highly qualified people were there and despite their best efforts, he sadly passed away.
“Nothing could have been done. What happened to him happened in the water. It is a form of drowning where the water hits his larynx and sends shockwaves to his heart.”
Stephen Anderson, himself an academic of New College, told Cherwell: “James’s sudden and unexpected death was very sad indeed, the more so in that he had only recently had the all-clear after a cancer scare.
“A scholar of considerable repute and a great teacher, he had a great knack for making friends, and is greatly missed by all who came in contact with him, particularly at Harrow, in Oxford and at the JACT Greek Summer School, held annually at Bryanston.
“The Roman poet Horace, in words very familiar to James, gets it just right: ‘multis ille bonis flebilis occidit’.”
Morwood was born in Belfast and educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, before teaching at Harrow School for 30 years. At Harrow, he was involved in school journalism and acting, supervising the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Curtis.
In 1996, he was elected to a Fellowship at Wadham College, where he became an Emeritus Fellow in 2006.
During his time at Oxford, was Editor of the Wadham Gazette and authored the Oxford Latin Course textbook, which afforded him international recognition in the classics world.
Wadham College Warden, Ken Macdonald, told Cherwell: “James was a gentle, scholarly teacher and friend who was loved and respected in equal measure at Wadham.
“Tolerant, funny and wise, he epitomised the enlightenment values that we treasure here. We were devastated by his death and we miss him terribly.”
Ray Ockenden, who stepped in as Editor of the Wadham Gazette after Morwood’s death, wrote in the Gazette: “The College mourns this man of extraordinary humility and humanity as an outstanding teacher and scholar, as its friend and most loyal servant: after James’s first year as a Fellow, there was only one term of the remaining twenty years of his association with Wadham during which he did not hold a College office.”
Stephen Heyworth, a Tutor of Classics alongside Morwood, wrote in a tribute: “We do know that he died a happy man, having lived a full life, and with no major project unfulfilled.
“People have helped themselves cope in such cases by creating stories about the death. In the ancient world, there is a repeated myth about those who died in water: their beauty was fatally attractive to the deities of sea or river.”
A Classics student at Wadham, Zoë Reed Sanderson, who was taught by Morwood, told Cherwell: “Tutorials with James were a highlight of my week; he taught with such passion and enthusiasm.
“The memorial service last month in the Sheldonian Theatre was a lovely way to remember and celebrate his life.”
Further tributes to James Morwood can be found on Wadham College’s website: http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2018/february/remembering-james-morwood.