Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Robert Vivian Gotto, died 16 April 2006

Robert Vivian Gotto, known to generations of Queen’s students as Viv, was himself a student in Queen’s in the 1940s. His connection with Queen’s however went further back than this. At the age of eleven he could have been found helping Queen’s Emeritus Professor of Zoology T Gregg Wilson search for mosquito larvae in areas around Belfast. At the same age Vivian joined the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club – his membership was proposed by the celebrated photographer R.J. Welch. Viv matriculated to Queen’s in 1940 and first met Gwyneth (née Jones) in the Zoology Department in autumn 1940. At this stage the Department was housed at the north end of the front façade of the Lanyon Building. Some account of these days and other days is given in Viv’s book Footprints in the Sea (Ballyhay Books 2004).

Viv and Gwyneth were both on a Zoology Easter Vacation field course in Portaferry in 1941 when German aircraft flew overhead on their way to bomb Belfast. Viv was in the ARP and his experiences wardening as the raids on Belfast continued that May probably contributed to him joining the RAF in 1943 having completed his general degree. He was posted to do meteorology initially in Paddington but from thence eventually to the Indian Ocean Cocos Keeling Islands and later to Ceylon. In 1946 Queen’s petitioned for his release - which was duly granted - they wanted a temporary assistant lecturer to join Gwyneth who had been released from the RAF and was already on the Zoology Department staff. First there was the little matter of completing his honours degree. Viv was awarded a first class honours degree plus the distinction of Highly Recommended (regardless of whether the statute books allowed such a thing). His first appointment to Queen’s was as a temporary assistant lecturer, dismissable at the end of any term, salary £100 per annum payable in arrears. He and Gwyneth spent their honeymoon helping George Williams run the 1947 Zoology Department Easter Vacation course in Portaferry.


Viv duly became a lecturer, senior lecturer and then reader in Zoology in 1980. He gained his D.Sc. in 1964. He was a brilliant and entertaining lecturer – gusts of laughter coming from the zoology lecture theatre meant Vivian had highlighted one of his lecture points with an anecdote or outrageous pun. Apart from lecturing on vertebrates and invertebrates, he ran superb practicals and for many years was the mainstay of marine vacation courses in Portaferry. His research work centred on the small copepods living in association with other marine invertebrates especially sea-squirts. His contributions to science included over sixty journal papers concerning their descriptions (including five new species), ecology, behaviour and fine structure. In 1993 he authored the standard key to these strange animals and was regarded as the leading international authority on them. Three such creatures have been given the specific name gottoi in his honour. Viv did not have the supply of research students the quality of his work merited nevertheless he successfully supervised a number of students in marine, terrestrial and freshwater topics – the latter including his son David.


In addition to his distinguished career in zoology, Vivian was a tennis player of international standing. He was a member of the Irish Davis Cup team from 1953-61 actually captaining it on thirteen occasions. He played in five Wimbledon Championships and, in 1953, held both the Irish Hardcourt singles and doubles championship.


Viv was a great raconteur and both a distinguished zoologist and sportsman. At the time of his death he was Captain of the Windsor Tennis Club in Belfast and still held an honorary research fellowship in the School of Biological Sciences. He was a lifelong ambassador for the University and will be greatly missed.



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