Tribute to Dr. Elizabeth Watson

The Caribbean Heritage Network joined The University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill campus community in mourning the passing of Dr. Elizabeth Watson, former Campus Librarian, who died on March 27, 2019, at the age of 74. 

Described by the University as an “indomitable Cave Hill stalwart”, Dr. Watson devoted nearly 50 years of service to the university, beginning on August 1, 1968 as a library clerk. An early resolve to become an academic librarian saw her moving up the ranks to temporary Assistant Librarian in the then newly established Learning Resource Centre (LRC) in 1979.

In that department, she is credited with developing the largest tertiary-level audio-visual collection in the Anglophone Caribbean. Over 22, 000 items were curated there between 1979 and 2008, and are now part of the Sidney Martin Library. She also worked assiduously to raise the visibility of the fledgling unit by hosting a series of lunch bag concerts. At the end of each event, she would share information about the LRC and encourage participants to make use of its facilities.

The unit was officially named the Elizabeth Watson Audiovisual Unit in September 2014, as a tribute to her outstanding achievements in this field.

Dr. Watson earned her first degree at The UWI, Cave Hill and later pursued a master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Long Island University. In 2007, she was promoted to the professorial level, the first non-academic member of staff to be so appointed. The long-standing member of staff retired in 2014.

She received her PhD in Cultural Studies in 2016 from The UWI, Cave Hill with doctoral research focused on the life and musical work of the late Jackie Opel who was credited with creating the musical genre spouge.

Dr. Watson also wrote bio-discographic books on Barbadian singers John King, Red Plastic Bag and Informer. At the time of her death, she was working on a book about Opel and was also scheduled to participate in a panel discussion in April at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.

Dr. Watson was deeply involved in efforts to raise the visibility and importance of intangible cultural heritage in Barbados and the region. She served as the Chair of the Barbados Commission for the Memory of the World Programme as well as the Anglophone speaking expert on the Regional Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. She was also a past president of the Commonwealth Library Association (COMLA).

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of The UWI, Cave Hill Campus, Professor Eudine Barriteau, expressed profound sadness at the loss. She recalled working with Dr. Watson during her tenure as Deputy Principal, and remembered her unwavering commitment to her work.

“She worked tirelessly to professionalise library services on campus, including the development of the Medical and Cultural Studies collections, the establishment of the Richard B. Moore and the George Lamming collections, implementing the Liaison Librarian programme to better serve the needs of faculty and students, creating the Kerri-Ann Ifill Unit for the Visually Impaired, and creating a study room that allowed students to work together in groups, among other initiatives,” Professor Barriteau said.

She recalled that while Dr. Watson served as Chair of the Barbados Commission for the Memory of the World Programme, she was instrumental in securing the inclusion of the Federal Archives fonds and the Nita Barrow Collection, two valuable historical Barbados collections that are held at Cave Hill Campus, in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

“With Dr. Watson’s passing, the UWI Cave Hill Campus and its libraries have lost a tremendous resource. She will be greatly missed. To her family and close friends, I extend my deepest sympathies. May she rest in peace.”