It is with a heavy heart that today we share with you the news of the loss of a Heriot-Watt alum and former Student Union President – in fact, it is the loss of Stefan Kay, the Union’s first president.
Stefan was a life-long benefactor of the Union and maintained close involvement in its development and growth until his passing. Stefan Kay began studying Civil Engineering back when Heriot-Watt was a College in 1963. Something of a shadow of our current self, the College hosted roughly 1000 full-time students in the then city-centre campus.
Student representation has always been at the heart of Edinburgh’s culture; before there was a fully-fledged Student Union, Heriot-Watt College had a Student Representation Council (SRC).
Stefan, like many students, immediately got involved with societies: he attended an Engineering Conference in Aberdeen on behalf of the HW Engineering Society in November 1963 and was soon asked by the SRC President, a friend from Stefan’s school days, to report on the conference later that month. So began the step-wise increase in Stefan’s involvement with student representation and the building of Heriot-Watt’s community to what it is today.
He became the Minute Secretary for the following 1964-65 session, then Senior Vice-President thereafter. The culture was beginning to change at Heriot-Watt: Stefan and his co-council members were given more responsibility including management over Brown Square House in Edinburgh, and a generous budget to go with it.
The time pressure to maintain their still full-time studies and commitments to student representation meant Stefan was soon Acting President, and was formally elected as President as the new 1965 session started. It wasn’t until later that academic year that Heriot-Watt would receive its Royal Charter on 4 March 1966 to become the institution as we know it today.
Navigating a somewhat elitist culture between the new and Ancient Scottish Universities, Stefan won re-election as President in 1967 and began building more of the Heriot-Watt community’s new foundations as a University. However, the pressures to maintain the role during his Final year were too much. While he stepped down, Stefan would remain close to University happenings for decades to come.
As Heriot-Watt moved campus, he would write for the student newspaper Omega, sometimes from hundreds of miles away in Essex where he was working. At this time also, he became secretary for the London branch of the Watt Club in ’71. Between bouncing around the UK between engineering jobs, he was elected the Watt Club president in 1994, nominated as the University Court Watt Club nominee in 1995-98, and Association Honorary President until 2001.
For his dedication, he was deservingly awarded Life Membership of the Association after his term. After briefly working for Heriot-Watt as the Director of Services for the Scottish Borders campus, and receiving an Honorary Degree (D Univ) for services to the Heriot-Watt, Stefan retired in 2009 only to further volunteer his time as a Trustee of the Union for the subsequent 10 years.
Through budgetary difficulties, constitutional rearrangement, and the typical challenges of helping steward an institution where the longest term length for the most important staff was two years, Stefan remained a constant.
He has provided invaluable insight and advice to countless Heriot-Watt University Student Union staff, students, and has helped build the Union, and University, to what it is today. His dedication to Heriot-Watt continued until his passing this week.
As a small token in recognition of Stefan's dedication, the Union has for a number of years, presented an award in his name to student volunteers who follow in his example and act as an exemplary volunteer and advocate for improving the student experience at Heriot-Watt.
We hope to keep alive the passion and commitment for student representation that Stefan held so dear and plan to award it in his honour for many years to come.