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William Greig Barr

Male 1917 - 2008  (90 years)

  • Name William Greig Barr  [1, 2, 3
    Known as "Greig" 
    Birth 10 Jun 1917  Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    Education aft 1928  Kelvinside Academy Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    Education bef 1936  Sedbergh School Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    Education abt 1936 - 1939  Magdalen College, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    • Modern History, 1st class hons. Stanhope Essay Prize
    Military Service 1939 - 1945  Lieut-Colonel, 96th Royal Devon Yeomanry  [4
    Occupation 1946 - 1972  Exeter College, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location ; Fellow  [4
    Occupation 1972 - 1982  Exeter College, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location ; College Rector  [4
    Post/Rank/Title 1974 -  Oxfordshire Find all individuals with events at this location ; Deputy Lieutenant  [4
    Death 23 Apr 2008    [4
    • Greig Barr: Oxford Rector who oversaw women being admitted
      Greig Barr was a dignified and benevolent presence at the University of Oxford for four decades. It was as Rector of Exeter College from 1972 to 1982 that he made his greatest contribution.
      He was no visionary or revolutionary - though it was under his leadership (and after nervous discussion in the governing body about where they should sleep and ablute) that the college finally admitted women - but he was able to ensure, during periods of unease within the fellowship, that trust, loyalty and transparency prevailed. Under him the college was run rather as if it were a house in a public school, or a family; and it is in large measure thanks to him that it has for some time regarded itself as the "friendly college".
      William Greig Barr was born in 1917 to Scottish parents. He was brought up on the South Side of Glasgow and attended Kelvinside Academy before moving on to Sedbergh in Cumbria, where he became head of house and head boy. He then went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read modern history, winning the Stanhope Essay Prize and graduating with a first in 1939.
      His war career was outstanding. He held the rank of major in Northern Ireland, served for some time in Europe, and in December 1944 became battery commander of the 96th Royal Devon Yeomanry. He left for India in January 1945, taking over as commanding officer with the rank of lieutenant-colonel at the end of July.
      The aim of the operation was to effect a landing on the west coast of Malaya and to drive out the Japanese, who had occupied it in 1942. As it turned out, the landing was unopposed as the Emperor had already surrendered. In the absence of civil government Barr's task was to bring order into the economy, schools and police force in his area. He accomplished this with signal success at the extraordinarily young age of 28.
      After the war he returned to Oxford where in 1946 he was elected to a fellowship at Exeter College. As was the custom, he taught a wide range of subjects from the Tudors to the 20th century, though his main interests lay in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in particular the Commonwealth and Protectorate.
      His main duty, he felt, was to his undergraduates; to tutor them for the final honour school but also to prepare them for later life by developing in them the clarity of thought and expression, and the values, necessary for responsible leadership. He was popular in all the offices he filled during his career, which included sub-rector (1947-54), finance and estates bursar (1954-55) and senior tutor (1960-66) as well as rector. Foremost a college man, he was selflessly devoted to it.
      Barr was a first-rate administrator, going about the college's business with a quiet and undemonstrative efficiency. Governing body meetings were unobtrusively expeditious, but finance and estates committees, the business completed, were sometimes lovingly prolonged for the sheer pleasure of talking about college affairs. Paperwork was kept to a minimum, thanks mainly to Barr's prodigious memory, and the envelopes he produced from his inside pockets on which he scribbled notes and decisions. He never appeared overburdened by any task, and seemed never to lose his temper, though he could be tetchy with any laxity in good manners, speech or even dress.
      Barr played a prominent role in the governance of the university, as junior proctor (1951-52), trustee for Rhodes House (1975-87), chairman of the Taylor Institution, chairman of the modern history faculty (1956-59) and pro-vice-chancellor (1980-82), as well as serving on Council, the General Board, the University Chest and many of the chief university committees. Having played as a "Greyhound", he was honorary treasurer of the Oxford University Rugby Football Club from 1948 to 1972 and president for another ten years, presiding over his last varsity match, played in deep snow, on the event's 100th anniversary. The highly successful rugby tour to Japan in 1952 remained vivid in his mind; it was the first sporting tour to Japan since the war and was followed with interest.
      Barr served as governor of a number of schools too, including Uppingham, Brighton College and Sedbergh, and was Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Oxfordshire for 25 years.
      Barr was quietly sociable, polite and considerate to a fault. Typically, he would have no retirement dinner.
      His first wife, Eleni, died in 1988. He is survived by his second wife, Valerie, and by his two sons.
      Greig Barr, DL, historian and Rector, Exeter College, Oxford, 1972-82, was born on June 10, 1917. He died on April 23, 2008, aged 90.
      [The Times, obituary, 23 Jun 2008]
    • The Barr family invented and produced the Scottish soft drink, Irn Bru. A.G. Barr and Co. Ltd. became a publicly-listed company in 1965. In 2011 Barr's are the largest British-based manufacturer of soft drinks, although Irn Bru is almost unknown outside Scotland, where it is known as "Scotland's other national drink". They remain headquartered in Glasgow, with production plants in Cumbernauld, Pitcox, together with Mansfield and Atherton in England.
    Person ID I2246  Tatham | Morris branch | Spouse
    Last Modified 20 May 2012 

    Family Living 
    Last Modified 07 Apr 2010 
    Family ID F0535  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Sources 
    1. [S43] Burke's Peerage / Burke's Landed Gentry.

    2. [S02] BMD Index, marriage reg Abingdon, Apr 1991.

    3. [S05] The Times, forthcoming marriages, 19 Mar 1991.

    4. [S05] The Times, obituary, 23 Jun 2008.