Belfast Telegraph

Rodney James Watson: A big man with a big heart... tributes to top hotelier who died suddenly at age of 59

By Amanda Ferguson

One of Northern Ireland's best known hoteliers has been remembered as "a big man with a big heart" following his death at the weekend.

Tributes have been paid to Rodney James Watson MBE who was the managing director of the luxury Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen.

The 59-year-old passed away at home in his sleep on Sunday.

He is survived by his wife Leigh and the wider family circle.

Mr Watson was well known and well thought of in the Co Fermanagh area and beyond.

A keen participant in Fermanagh life and a big fan of horse racing, his funeral takes place today and cremation will follow tomorrow.

Mr Watson was born in Armagh in 1955, the second in a family of four brothers including Jackie, Robert and Richard.

A former pupil of Royal School Armagh and later a student at Portrush Catering College, he fostered his love of hospitality in the Drumsill Hotel, Armagh, under the guidance of his beloved mother, Pearl.

He came to Killyhevlin in 1976 where he settled into Fermanagh life and made his home at the bungalow in the hotel grounds.

In 1987 he met Leigh, and in 1991 she became his wife and partner in life and work.

Mr Watson was an active participant in many clubs and societies including the Round Table, the 41 Club, Rotary, Fermanagh Harriers, Golf Clubs and Masonic.

He played a prominent role in horse racing with a special love for point-to-pointing and horse welfare issues, a tradition he carried on from his father, Archie.

A statement from the Killyhevlin Hotel said: "Rodney was loved and respected and known far and wide for his generosity – a big man with a big heart, wit and also his forthright manner.

"He always called a spade a spade, and his organising talents were always to the fore.

"We all knew there was no point in arguing when he told you where you were to be seated at the table and also when it was time for you to go home."

A former president of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation, he was chairman of the Lakeland Hotels Federation and sat on the board of the Rivers Agency.

He was passionate about Fermanagh tourism and was awarded an MBE in 2008 in recognition of his hard work.

A spokeswoman for the Killyhevlin Hotel said he was respected by all staff and will be "deeply missed".

"He was immensely proud of Killyhevlin Hotel and the family business tradition and values," a statement from the hotel said.

"This is a culture which we will all strive to continue with the great and loyal team in place, whom he has considered as his family.

The family has requested family flowers only. Donations in lieu, if desired, to the Jockeys Fund and Rotary International.

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