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Jack Watters: A tribute to a dear friend and colleague

13 Jul 2015

Dr Jack Watters – 1952 to 2015We are profoundly saddened at the death of Jack Watters, a member of our Board of Trustees. Jack passed away in New York on 30 June.

Jack had an immediate positive impact when he joined our Board in October 2014. He was a popular and highly engaged Trustee, always ready to provide advice and perspective on any issue. He made particularly valuable contributions to Board discussions on our Strategy 2020.

Jack was Pfizer's Vice President for External Medical Affairs, responsible for relations with medical societies, academic institutions and government health bodies around the globe.

Supporting people living with HIV and AIDS

It was here that he first came into contact with HelpAge International, more than 15 years ago. Jack represented Pfizer on matters of corporate responsibility and human rights, especially relating to raising political will for the plight of people with HIV and AIDS.

He was invited to speak on the issues of health disparities, capacity building, science education, public-private partnership and, increasingly, on ageing.

In a pharmaceutical career spanning over 30 years, Jack gained experience across all phases of research from the laboratory to the clinic. He was active and influential in raising the medical voice of the pharmaceutical industry in civil society. He was one of the architects of the landmark Diflucan Partnership Program with the government of South Africa.

The programme is now active in 60 of the world's least developed countries. He served on the boards of the American Federation for Aging Research and Research! America, as well as other civil society and arts institutions.

Great philanthropist

He was a great philanthropist and had a particular passion for the ballet. A native of Scotland, Jack lived in New York City with his partner, the former ballet dancer Ian Archer-Watters.

On a personal level, I will miss Jack terribly. He changed the dynamic wherever he was, with his tremendous sense of humor, warmth and intelligence. When Jack was involved, you knew everything would be better. He was simply incomparable.

I asked the three staff members who knew him best, Mark Gorman, Paul Ong, and Toby Porter, to share their recollections of Jack:

Jack Watters: a recollection by Mark Gorman (Senior Advisor at HelpAge International)

"I can't remember when I first met Jack. I feel like he's someone I've known for much longer than the 15 years or so its probably been since our first meeting. This was certainly at one of the many conferences to which Jack was invited to speak as an eminent and authoritative voice on ageing.

"We met many times over the years, both in big conferences and small workshops. Wherever he spoke, Jack was listened to not only for what he said, which always moved our thinking on, but also for the way he said it, quietly, utterly without bombast, but with immense authority.

Addressed challenges of ageing

"It wasn't all speaking on platforms, as in the years I knew him Jack actively promoted a wide range of practical work to address the challenges of ageing, as well as combatting the scourge of HIV in Africa, not only by deploying his company's resources to fund programmes offering direct help to large numbers of people, but also by being a thought leader and spokesperson on challenging issues.Dr Jack Watters – 1952 to 2015

"His encouragement and support to HelpAge has been instrumental in a step-change in our health work in recent years. Jack lived his belief that the private sector can make a major contribution to change for the better, and, as Paul Ong has so perceptively pointed out, reminded all of us that NGOs don't have a monopoly on concern for others.

"He was also great fun to be with! I'll remember his love of good conversation, and his dry humour (he once asked me, at the end of a long evening's discussion about culture and the arts, whether I was harbouring an inner ambition to be a dancer!).

"He was elegant in every way, the way he spoke with a soft Edinburgh inflection, the way he dressed, his immense courtesy and concern for others. In all ways, Jack had style.

Remembered for his achievements

"He's been taken from us so soon. It seems especially cruel that Jack, who spearheaded the Get Old campaign run by Pfizer, celebrating later life, should have been robbed of his own final years, to which he was looking forward with so much optimism. But we should remember Jack not for what we have lost, but for who he was, and what he achieved.

"Jack is one of those of whom it can truly be said that he made the world a better place, both for those of us who were lucky enough to know him, and for many thousands who never met him, but have benefited from his work. Goodbye Jack, and thank you.

Jack Watters: a recollection by Paul Ong (former Health Advisor at HelpAge International)

"I had two long conversations with Jack and the one that really sticks out was my first with him, I think in 2012. Two things stand out from that conversation.

"The first was his frank expression of hopes and projects following retirement, more time with Ian, their dog, and also time for the arts again, especially the ballet in London.

"Jack's death is a reminder to me that we best do what we really want to do as we go through life - retirement may be a myth for many for all sorts of reasons, usually health related.

Believed in his work

"Ideally in life, we should go (paraphrasing the famous riddle of the sphinx) from two legs to having three in old age, but quite often as I discovered in palliative care work, we can go rapidly from two legs to none, even in the 21st century, so best take life when it is there.

"The second exposed a major prejudice that I had held for a long time. Half an hour into my conversation with Jack, it dawned on me that this was a corporate man who genuinely believed in his work, who believed that this form and method of drug discovery was a really GOOD thing for humanity.

"It destroyed a pre-conception that I had, which said that no true vocation could ever be found in a for-profit world. It was clearly and abundantly not true and this old stout Scot had punctured a well-regarded and precious sensibility of mine which turned out to be a prejudice only.

"Jack in 30 minutes showed me something that has made me a more gentle person because he gave me the knowledge that the Truth can be found anywhere and that our prejudices can stop us from seeing something that is True because we think 'Oh, it musn't or cannot possibly exist in this kind or that kind of world'.

"For that alone, I owe Jack something, he made me a much less narrow minded person. May he rest in Peace, he was a genuinely good man who believed and worked in a difficult and troubled world."

Jack Watters: a recollection by Toby Porter (Chief Executive with HelpAge International)

"I have been saddened beyond words at Jack's death. As Mark has written, Jack's relationship with HelpAge International dates back more than fifteen years. Our pioneering health programme in Tanzania, which is now well established with and being closely studied by the Government there, has been possible largely due to financial support from Pfizer.

Great support for HelpAge

"We can trace the origin of that support directly back to a general conversation in October 2012 during an IAGG meeting in Cape Town that Jack had with our Country Director, Amleset Tewodros about the health challenges facing older Tanzanians.

"On a personal level, Jack was exceptionally generous to me as Chief Executive of HelpAge International with both his time and hospitality. We had dinner or lunch together four or five times whenever we were in the same city together; London, New York and even Hyderabad, where he was a keynote speaker at the 2014 12th Global Conference of the International Federation on Aging.

"Jack had an obvious genuine interest in all aspects of the work of HelpAge International, in the welfare of our team, and in the challenges we face as an organisation and as a global network. He knew how organisations and their leaders should work in order to be effective and impactful. He understood the global ageing community extremely well. We had arranged to visit our health work in Colombia together at the end of the year, which I was hugely excited about.

"I last saw Jack and Ian in February, at dinner next to their new apartment in the Battery, New York. We corresponded throughout all but the final stages of his illness, and he continued to show keen interest in all things HelpAge over that time.

"I mourn him greatly. Jack was a person who combined incredible achievement with great personal grace."

Your comments

Archer-Watters Ian

This tribute overwhelms me with its beauty, dignity, grace, respect and charm. I am so grateful for this beautiful acknowledgment of my most amazing husband's efforts to work as best as he could, which was the best, on behalf of this brilliant organization. I have selected HelpAge as one of four charities to support in memory of my Jack. I am so proud to include HelpAge. Having only met Toby a couple of times, I understand his charm and appeal to Jack to give HelpAge his all and I am so sorry I cannot replace him as your organization deserves the best! But I will be of financial support to you always. With sadness in my heart but gratitude in my soul for friends like you, Ian Archer-Watters, widower, Jack Watters

enrico ambroso

I met Jack back in '85 when i was a kid as he used to work with my father, we had holidays in Finland together in December '85 iiric, I always remembered his funny humor although I was a kid and could not really speak any english, I regret I could not get back in touch with him these last years after finding his email, withouth me knowing it at the time he probably inspired parts of my values and it's a shame I was never able to share that with him, rest in peace mate... my two cents enrico

Darryl Howe

I come late to this. I met and loved meeting and loving Jack in Edinburgh in 1980. I have never stopped loving him or cherishing the memory of those shared times. I would love to read the letters we wrote thereafter and until necessity said stop: sometimes loving really is learning to let go. Alas! now I will never manage that oft dreamed of and imagined, but only half-planned catch up. Ian, I offer my love and biggest hugs and heartfelt condolences. Late, but for you I am sure still material that still and for-always matters.

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Cindy Cox-Roman
Job title: Chair of HelpAge Board

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.