Tributes have been paid by Members of the Guild and the world-wide agricultural journalists’ community to Joe Watson, who died suddenly on the evening of Thursday, March 6. He was 43.
A former chairman of the Guild and currently the organisation’s executive representative to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ), Joe had been the hard-working agricultural editor of the Press & Journal in Aberdeen since 1996.
The Scotsman reports that Joe started his career with the newspaper in 1989 and worked as a news reporter in the Banff area before returning after a two-year break from the publication to take up the farming editor’s position.
Damian Bates, editor-in-chief of The Press & Journal, said: “We’re all absolutely stunned at the news of Joe’s premature passing. He was not only a brilliant journalist who travelled all over Scotland, the UK and Europe to cover farming matters, but he was also a great friend to us all and a really important part of The P&J family.”
Guild chairman Jane Craigie, who lives six miles from Joe’s home town of Turriff, described him as a friend who she will miss greatly.
“Joe has been involved in the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists in many roles for over a decade, including two years as Chairman,” she said. “He was a great character and a prolific writer who was often controversial. But he was always proud of his principled stand; he had the courage of his convictions and was a better journalist for it.”
His abilities were reflected in his award-winning success in the Guild’s photography and regional farming coverage competitions: he was twice named Regional Farming Journalist of the Year in the Stuart Seaton Award for his work in the Press & Journal and its weekly Farming supplement.
He was also well-known and respected in the farming community. NFU Caithness chairman Arnot Coghill said in a Caithness Courier report: “The farming industry has lost a powerful figure; people looked to him as the voice of the farming industry and he was a constant figure at the major agriculture meetings and events. As far as agricultural journalism is concerned, Joe will be missed terribly,” he said.
As an elected member of the Guild’s management Council, Joe regularly travelled down from Aberdeen to London for meetings, where he was keen to uphold standards of good journalism and sound management of Guild affairs. And woe betide any airline that mucked up his travel plans for their shortcomings would soon be the subject of a scathing Facebook rant!
As Jane Craigie sums up: “We will miss him, his sense of humour and his input greatly.”
Joe is survived by his mother Mirren and younger brothers Murdo and Fraser.
Damian Bates, Press & Journal: Joe was a beautiful human being, a gentle giant and a skilled reporter who knew his subject inside and out. I can’t believe he’s been taken from us – we’re all heartbroken.
Louise Impey: This really is an enormous shock and a great loss. My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this very difficult time.
Clive Rainbird: I didn’t know Joe well but in the short time we worked together on Council I quickly understood that Joe always gave 100%. A larger than life character whose loss will be keenly felt across a very wide circle. The BGAJ and IFAJ will be diminished by his premature passing.
Markus Rediger, Switzerland (IFAJ President): It is unbelievable that Joe Watson passed away. How could this happen so suddenly? I am saddend to hear this. Just remember all the days we spent with him the last half year in Berlin, Charmey and Argentina! Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Left: Joe tempting IFAJ representatives to attend this year’s Congress in Scotland with a tot of Scotch.
Owen Roberts, Canada (IFAJ Vice-President): Like all of you, I am mourning the loss of Joe today, thinking of his mother with whom he lived and loved dearly. I hope those of you who attended the IFAJ closing dinner at our executive meeting in Berlin in January take some comfort knowing Joe understood then, through our tribute to him, how much he meant to us, and how we valued him as a person and as a professional. Now, it seems so bittersweet that at that farewell dinner we together with Joe sang Auld Lang Syne (“We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”). I propose that be one of the many ways we pay tribute to Joe this year at the congress in Scotland, at which we’ll have the opportunity to walk where he walked and remember him in his homeland.
Riitta Mustonen, Finland (IFAJ Secretary General): This is so hard to believe and understand. My condolences to all of you who were the nearest to Joe in Britain and Scotland. Who will now tell us the finesses of whisky and all the other stories? We’ll miss him a lot in IFAJ and ENAJ too!
Peter Hill: Joe was a larger than life character with forthright views, and an enormously talented journalist who upheld the very best principles of our profession. My thoughts are not only with his family but also those in the Guild who had a close working and personal relationship with ‘the big man’.
Ken Fletcher: His friends and colleagues, including everyone at The Scottish Farmer, are shocked and saddened by what is a great loss to both the publishing and agricultural industries. Click the image to read Ken’s obituary in The Scottish Farmer.
Josef Siffert (President) and Stefan Nimmervoll (IFAJ Executive representative), Austria: The Austrian guild of farm writers, VAÖ, wants to offer its sincere condolences to all British collegues. Our heartful sympathies go to the family of Joe Watson. We got to know Joe as a very pleasant and committed journalist, who always had the development of IFAJ on his mind. With his ‘Scottish’ demeanour he was one of IFAJs great characters. We shall remember him among our best memories.
Trevor Hayes: I dealt with Joe for many years when I was in charge of the NFU press office in the 1990s and he was a man of integrity whom one could trust absolutely as well as have a joke and drink with. He also upheld the high standards of his paper for which I had freelanced for many years before that. I was stunned on reading what has happened. May he rest in peace and I send my condolences to his relatives and friends.
Adrian Bell: Joe was a character yes, and a combatant sometimes, but most of all a principled, eloquent and talented journalist who we were fortunate to count as a colleague and a friend.
Emma Penny: It is desperately sad news to hear about Joe today. It doesn’t seem so long ago since we were competing against one another in the Young Farmers speechmaking competitions – he was always a formidable competitor! Agricultural journalism has lost a giant in many ways today – it will be a poorer and less colourful place without him. Deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues from all at Farmers Guardian.”
Roger Abbott: I am devastated to hear Joe has died. I proposed him as my deputy when I was Guild chairman and he has proved his commitment to the Guild over the years. I am truly saddened to hear of his untimely death.
Tatjana Cop, Slovenia: This is really terribly sad! I loved Joe very much and I was looking forward seeing him in his home town this year. Life, or rather, death is really not fair. My deep condolences to his family, friends and his colleagues!
Jesús López Colmenarejo, Spain: Too young…..I am really shocked and sad. RIP Joe. Take care, friends at the British Guild.
Damien O’Reilly, Ireland: Joe was larger than life and had a wonderful dry wit and dark sense of humour, which was immensely likeable. I knew he had been having some health problems but really this is a terrible shock and he is far too young. It’s particularly sad for the British Guild in this important year where the congress is taking place in his home country and home town.
Tim Scrivener: Joe at the Royal Highland Show in 2009
Alistair Driver: Really shocked to hear about Joe. Brilliant journalist, larger than life character, lovely guy – what a loss.
Guy Attenborough: Many of us at AHDB have known Joe over many years. He was a truly excellent journalist who was renowned for his integrity, and his passion for farming shone through in all his writing. He was tough and challenging when occasion demanded but he was one of the best at his craft, and was widely respected as such. We are shocked and saddened at his untimely passing. He is a real loss to agricultural communications.
Rodney Magowan, Northern Ireland: Having first met Joe on IFAJ trips to Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Slovakia, I came to know his work on a daily basis during visits to north-east Scotland when our daughter lived in Aberdeen. The volume and quality of copy, plus pics, he generated day in, day out for the P&J was amazing. A guy doing a job he loved and doing it so very well. To have him passing decades younger than me is so terribly unfair, not least only months before the IFAJ Congress comes to his beloved north-east. Joe put great effort into not only P&J work, but the IFAJ and the BGAJ. To me, Joe was a decent, hard working big man, who asked the right questions and reported it as he saw it on behalf of the farming community. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.
Catherine Paice: I am shocked and saddened to hear about Joe. I had in the past six months been reminded of his skills, common sense, good company, commitment and great sense of humour. He was a brave and principled man, down-to-earth, a first class journalist and an Aberdonian character to boot. He has gone far too soon.
Nick Bond: As the tributes from round the world demonstrate, Joe was a much liked and admired character. Larger than life in so many ways, he was respected for his journalistic ability by all who knew him. He was a great servant to the Guild, a valued and forthright member of the Council who provided strong leadership during his term as chairman when the foundations for many of the subsequent changes in BGAJ were laid. As our IFAJ representative he proved to be an excellent ambassador for the Guild, journalism and British agriculture. It was as a result of attending his first IFAJ congress, in Japan in 2007, that he became enthusiastic for hosting this year’s Congress in Scotland. Everyone who came into contact with Joe will have lasting memories of him. Mine will include the support he gave me during my time as Guild chairman; his addressing of the haggis at a Guild Burn’s Night supper in The Farmers Club; the pride with which he showed me round Aberdeen; and his Scotch Whisky master class, given in a Japanese bar for the benefit of North American IFAJ delegates who he felt were lacking in their appreciation of a good malt. He will be greatly missed.
Jacqueline Wijbenga, Netherlands: Just wanted to let you know personally that I was shocked to hear of the sudden death of Joe Watson. My first and only encounter with him was in Berlin earlier this year. Afterwards we had vivid email discussions on communication. In this we felt like soul mates. Joe was far too young to die. Even though I only knew him briefly I was impressed by the notification I read on the BBC website about his passing. He really made an impression on his life’s path and left marks for others to follow. Working for the IFAJ Congress in Scotland, I’m sure Joe gave you all a lot of support and energy. He was proud of his background and looked forward to introducing us all to his home ground. It saddens me that he won’t be able to do so and light up the sparks in others for his beloved Scotland and the farming community in your country. I’m sure with all the work the British team puts in, you’ll make it an event to remember and those of us who’ve known him will remember Joe especially at that time. As a team I wish you a lot of strength to maintain the good work and look forward to seeing you all in September.
Lena Johansson, Sweden: I am still shocked about the news that Joe has passed away. It’s so difficult to realize it’s truth. It’s a bit comforting to think about how happy and proud he was to be able to welcome us all to Scotland. I have quite a few good memories of him from our meeting in Berlin. How we laughed when he was hugged by Czef at the last dinner and his inspiring speech at the embassy. By coincidence I bumped into him when I was going to the airport in Berlin. We shared a taxi and he was in a very good mood. He had just finished an article for his paper and was planning to take a day off when he arrived home. My last memory of him was when he hugged me at the airport and wished me welcome to Aberdeen in September. I wasn’t a close friend, but during the last years I got to know him a little better through the Executive committee and the Host country liaison committee. He was always frank and straight. Even though he could sound a bit grumpy at times, he had a great sense of justice and he wasn’t afraid to express himself when he was not satisfied. Persons like him is very valuable in an organisation as IFAJ.
And when I learned more about him I also realized that he had a big heart.
Jef Verhaeren, Belgium (chairman, ENAJ): Joe was undoubtedly one of the best agricultural journalists of the world and very strict on principles of journalist ethics. At the same time he was a friend with a great heart and warm friendship. We knew he was not very healthy but it’s hard to believe he’s not there anymore. He loved us and we loved him. Ida had a special place in her heart for Joe, who was special, a friend you care for. He’ll be missed on the congress he shaped, he lived for year after year. And now, he will not be there. It’s hard to believe and very difficult to accept.
Cedric Porter: It is a testament to Joe that his influence was felt so keenly far beyond the North East of Scotland. At events throughout the UK, you would always see Joe asking the most relevant and probing questions of ministers, company representatives and farmers. His legacy is to be a blueprint for anyone wishing to convey farming in a clear and engaging way to both farmers and the wider community. There will be a bit of a hole at Guild and other events but it is at times like this when the non-business value of the Guild is the most apparent, demonstrating that we are a community bound by friendship.
Steve Mitchell: I was as shocked as everyone to hear the sad news about Joe Watson – all the more upsetting as Joe and I had been exchanging e-mails just a couple of days before his untimely death, about this year’s BGAJ/John Deere Journalism Training Award. Joe’s support for the award (and for individual course members on occasion) over many years, as a guest speaker, judge – particularly with his eagle eye for unattributed sources! – and in his blog, went way beyond the call of duty, and he was a great inspiration to many aspiring journalists. We shall all miss him.
Margaret, Countess of Mar: I am dreadfully sorry to hear of Joe’s sudden death. I have many happy memories of the period when he was Chairman of the BGAJ and I was Guild President. His sense of humour and good nature rarely failed him but, when they did, it had to be all hands to the pump! His enthusiasm for this year’s international event was infectious – as is demonstrated by the many willing hands he recruited. I know that he will be sadly missed by his family and many friends.
George Chancellor: Oh dear. We’ve been deprived of one of the most consistent campaigners against mediocrity within our profession and most ardent advocates of accuracy beyond it. Where on earth are we going to find someone big enough in spirit and determination, as well as shoe size and appetite, to fill your space and continue preventing ill-informed and often ill-intentioned commentators on our industry sleeping that much easier in their beds from now on ? We’ll miss you Joe. But we’ll remember you by the length of your shadow. And, hopefully, find a way to continue championing the causes you held so dear.
Carolyne Cree: I have just heard about the sudden loss of Big Joe Watson and wanted to write to you to say I am totally shocked, as I guess many of you are. From the time and correspondence I enjoyed with Joe in recent years, he was a pleasure to know, obviously dedicated to his work and a terrible shame he will now not be around to enjoy the IFAJ Congress he had worked so hard to materialise. My thoughts will be with his family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.
Caroline Drummond: So sorry to hear about Joe very sad news and a great loss. Indeed, a larger-than-life character and a tragically cut too short too soon.