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A tribute to Jo Watkins

Posted: 16th February 2023

Below is the text of a tribute by the Rt Hon Nick Raynsford (Chair of CIC from 2006-2008) at the Memorial Service, held on 9th February 2023, for Jo Watkins, former President of the Landscape Institute and Honorary Treasurer of CIC from 2015 to 2020.

I got to know Jo relatively recently, through his involvement with the Construction Industry Council. As President of the Landscape Institute, Jo became involved with the CIC, subsequently joining its Board and in 2015 becoming its Treasurer, a post he held until the end of his term of office in 2020.

The CIC exists to promote and facilitate collaboration between the many professional bodies engaged with the built environment, including planners, architects, engineers, surveyors, researchers and, of course, landscape architects. In an industry which has traditionally been characterised by fragmentation, and, too often by conflict and litigation within and between different disciplines, the need for closer links and better co-operation was highlighted by the two seminal reports of the 1990s, the Latham and Egan Reports; indeed the emergence of the CIC was very much a product of the reform agenda of that period.

Jo fully understood the importance of this drive to break down the barriers which, too often, divided the different elements within the industry, and along with other key figures from the Landscape Institute, a number of whom are here today, Jo made a significant contribution to broadening the horizons of those involved in CIC debates and activities, ensuring a strong focus on environmental and bio-diversity issues which might otherwise have received less attention than they deserved.

Working with Jo was always a pleasure. His intelligent, measured and principled approach to issues and challenges, whether on a global or micro scale, meant that his counsel and advice always merited close attention. His dry sense of humour, already referred to, gave an added delight to conversations with him, which always felt productive and worthwhile. Graham Watts, Chief Executive of the CIC, could not have put it better when describing Jo as “a very thoughtful, mild-mannered, supportive and engaged associate, who clearly believed in the collaborative principles of the CIC.”

What also marked Jo out from many others who held senior positions in the CIC and other construction industry bodies was the diligence and tenacity he displayed in meeting the responsibilities of his roles as both a Board member and Treasurer, and the complete absence of any hint of self-importance or sense of entitlement, something which cannot be said about all other leaders in the industry, or indeed in politics! His natural decency and modesty shone through in all his working relationships.

Although increasingly troubled by illness through his later years on the CIC Board, Jo persevered conscientiously in discharging his responsibilities, even though the travelling and attendance at meetings must often have been difficult and painful for him. Graham Watts recalls how CIC offered to arrange taxis for Jo to facilitate journeys to and from the CIC’s Store Street office, but mostly he chose not to take up the offers. He never complained nor sought an early termination of his role as Treasurer, which would have been entirely understandable in the circumstances. He diligently saw through his responsibilities to the end of his almost five years term of office.

Jo is remembered at the CIC with great affection and admiration as one of the nicest and most committed of the leading players in the organisation’s history. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by a large number of people like myself who had the good fortune to know him and work with him, and whose lives were enriched in many ways, both simple and profound, by our association with him.