Ajit Sat-Bhambra bids goodbye to Asian Affairs’ editor David Watts, one of the magazine’s founding members and key contributors since its earliest days.
It is with much sadness that I report the passing of Asian Affairs’ editor David Watts, who died of cancer on Sunday April 10 at the age of 72. But my sadness is tempered by many happy memories of a man who was a hugely supportive professional colleague and a thoroughly decent human being.
I first contacted David in 1994 when he was Assistant Foreign Editor of The Times, and invited him for lunch to Gaylord’s Restaurant in London with a view to discussing my ideas for a new magazine focusing on Asian current affairs. There were no formal introductions; I simply rang the newspaper and asked to speak to the relevant correspondent.
From such tentative beginnings, a long and successful working relationship was born.
Slowly, David and I also developed a social bond, meeting for tea, lunch or dinner. We built up confidence in each other and used to meet every month to discuss issues concerning the magazine, as well as sharing financial and personal difficulties. David was always supportive and helpful with his advice. He even cautioned me to be wary of threats that might come our way because of the sometimes contentious, even inflammatory content of the magazine—wisely, as it turned out.
In the early days Asian Affairs had several contributors based in the subcontinent, but slowly it was whittled down to two regular writers from India and one from Pakistan. As interest in the magazine grew, David Watts began to bring in his own contacts. The shape of the magazine today owes so much to his vision and contributions.
It is no exaggeration to say that David Watts was the father of Asian Affairs magazine. It has been 22 years from the very first issue, published in 1994, to the last one he wrote for in March this year. David saw it through from its uncertain birth, faltering childhood and adolescence, until finally he was forced to say goodbye to it in its robust adulthood. He was helpful and generous in every way, sharing his contacts, ideas and extensive knowledge.
Last summer David told me he had been diagnosed with cancer, which was a shock, as he looked so well and seemed as vigorous as ever. He bravely endured the misery of chemotherapy and, incredibly, continued working on the magazine right up until March this year. Such was his strength and the continuing quality of his work that I really thought he would recover from the illness. I could not believe he would succumb to it, nor that it would all be over so quickly.
As readers of the Times and Asian Affairs will know, David Watts was an excellent analytical journalist with an engaging writing style that could enliven any topic. He had a deep knowledge and understanding of South and East Asia, and on the two occasions we visited India together, we had an enjoyable time.
Even when faced with difficult people or situations, he would overcome them through frank and fair discussion. He also had a good sense of humour: who could forget his big, hearty, life-affirming laugh?
Although he cannot hear me, I would like to say a huge thank you to David for his support, skill and patience, and for his humanity. Without him, this magazine would not exist. In his name, we at Asian Affairs intend to keep it going for another 20 years and beyond, taking it to the new heights that he envisaged.
David leaves a wife, Shizuko, and two sons, Mark and Domininc. All of the staff of Asian Affairs, and its regular correspondents who knew David, send the family their heartfelt condolences.
(To be accompanied by photo of David chosen by his wife.)