Remembering Professor Alan Watson (1933 - 2018)

It is with great sadness that Edinburgh Law School notes the death of Professor Alan Watson.

 Prof Alan Watson

By Professor John W. Cairns

Alan Watson, who served as Professor of Civil Law in the University of Edinburgh from 1968 to 1980, died in Athens, Georgia, on 7 November, aged 85. He remained an Honorary Professor at Edinburgh, and was proud of our award to him of the degree of LLD, honoris causa.

A devoted pupil of David Daube, Alan was a charismatic man, a brilliant teacher, and a highly original scholar. A proud Glasgow graduate, who took his doctorate at Oxford where he taught for a number of years, Alan first made his name with a series of works on the laws of the later Roman Republic. His book, Legal Transplants, first published in 1974, made his reputation as a comparative law scholar. Alan enjoyed remarking that it at first made no impression and was ignored; if true, this was certainly not latterly the case, and the idea of “transplants” has come to be one of the most widely adopted concepts in contemporary comparative law. A true enthusiast for ideas, and possessed of a very fertile mind, many books flowed from his pen (he never took to the typewriter much less the computer). His editing of the translation of Justinian’s Digest has proved invaluable, while also producing some of Alan’s favourite anecdotes.

After leaving Edinburgh, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania for a few years, before moving to the University of Georgia, where his wife, Camilla, was also a law professor. They then settled down to life in the South, with time split between Athens and their much-loved farm in South Carolina.

Alan could inspire students, and relished teaching. Indeed, he was very disappointed when a relatively recent downturn in his health meant he had to retire. He missed his classes. With a strong social conscience, he was courageous in the face of injustice, as Deans sometimes found to their cost.

This is not the place for personal reminiscence, nor for a discussion of Alan’s wider, rich, and very full life. He was a passionate man of warm emotions, generous, kind, and thoughtful, who had a real zest for life. He will be much missed and our thoughts are with his family.

Image credit: John W. Cairns