Sir Kenneth Dover

Sir Kenneth Dover, former Chancellor of the University of St Andrews

Born: 11 March, 1920, in London.

Died: 7 March, 2010, in St Andrews, aged 89.

SIR KENNETH Dover was without question one of the great Hellenists of the 20th century. His work was authoritative and widely admired and his career was littered with prestigious appointments and affectionate memories. It is perhaps somewhat perverse then that he is remembered most widely for radical comments published in his autobiography regarding the unsavoury account of the Oxford Don, Trevor Aston.

Born in London in 1920, Dover was educated at St Paul's School before entering Balliol College, Oxford. By 1939, at the tender age of 19, he was already a master of his craft. The university had published his winning lines for the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse and he had won the respect of revered luminaries of the field such as Lionel Pearson.

The Second World War then intervened and Dover joined the Royal Artillary, serving in Italy and collecting a mention in dispatches (an award for gallantry) for his service.

Following his military stint, Dover returned to Balliol College as a fellow and tutor in 1948. He spent seven years in the role before being offered a Professorship in Greek studies at St Andrews. The Scottish university was to become a significant part of Dover's life, and he retained a family home there for more than 50 years. During his time at the university he was twice the Dean of the Faculty of Arts before becoming Chancellor in 1981.

In 1975 he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in 1976 he left Scotland and returned to Oxford, this time as president of Corpus Christi College, a post he held for ten years. In 1977 he was awarded a knighthood for his services to Greek studies.

It was during his Corpus Christi tenure that Dover was involved in a significant scandal regarding the unacceptable behaviour and subsequent suicide of college fellow Trevor Aston. Aston was regarded as a brilliant, if somewhat unpredictable, historian who suffered from manic depression. He was also having marital problems and had turned to drink as a result, eventually committing suicide in 1985 using a combination of pills and alcohol.

In his 1994 autobiography Marginal Comment, Dover published highly controversial views on the death of Aston, some so much so that it led to speculation in the House of Lords that he could be arrested for the book's revelations. Dover, feeling that he had to protect the integrity and the history of the institution, wrote: "It was clear to me by now that Trevor and the college must somehow be separated. My problem was one which I feel compelled to define with brutal candour: how to kill him without getting into trouble... I had no qualms about causing the death of a fellow from whose nonexistence the college would benefit, but I balked at the prospect of misleading a coroner's jury."

He was surprised at the fuss this and other admissions had caused, stating that he felt the point of an autobiography was to tell the truth. It was also his assertion that, even though he had considered the possibility of causing Aston's death by ignoring his mental state, the suicide was in fact a direct result of divorce proceedings instigated by his second wife.

Dover's career progression was seemingly unstoppable and in 1978 he was appointed president of the British Academy, an institution of which he had been a fellow since 1966. He presided for three years before taking on a much grander commitment. In 1981 Dover was appointed chancellor of the University of St Andrews, in the process becoming the first chancellor in its 600-year history who was neither a peer nor an archbishop.

The position is awarded for life, but due to his increasing frailty he resigned the post in 2005. He was remembered affectionately by many at the university, and was elected honorary president of the Students' Association as a token of the students' appreciation of his work, and a sign of the esteem in which he was held.

During his time as chancellor, Dover capped many well-known figures including Prince William, JK Rowling, Colin Montgomerie and five-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave.

During his career, Dover also held positions at both Cornell and Stanford Universities and was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford, St Andrews, Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, London, Liverpool and Oglethorpe.

He was also a foreign member of the American and the Royal Netherlands Academies of Arts and Science. His published works are considered essential reading for students of Greek classics and include Greek Word Order (1960), Aristophanic Comedy (1972), Greek Homosexuality (1978), and The Greeks and their Legacy (1989) as well as his infamous autobiography.

Outside of academia, Dover was a passionate and dedicated bird watcher whose knowledge and skill was second to none. He was regarded as one of Britain's very best birders.

A devoted family man, he lived and breathed for his wife, Lady Audrey Dover. Together they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in March 2007 and in their dotage, and despite his failing physicality, he could often be seen pushing her in her wheelchair around the streets of St Andrews.

Lady Dover died in December 2009.

Often referred to as "The sage of St Andrews", Sir Kenneth Dover died just four days shy of his 90th birthday. He is survived by his son and daughter.