Commander Charles Heron-Watson MN was the CEO of the RMNEF for 16 years from January 2007 until June 2023, having worked for the charity before that as the Appeals & Welfare Secretary, during which time he was awarded the Merchant Navy medal. Charles devoted 25 years of his life to our charity and was involved in the search for his successor up until his untimely death in June 2023. We will be forever grateful to him for all that he achieved for our charity.
In his earlier career, Charles had served in the Royal Navy for 27 years, as a Hydrographic Survey Officer. During that time he commanded three survey ships (HM Ships EGERIA, FOX and HYDRA) and served in many, as well as briefly with the South African Navy and later, in the Ministry of Defence in a range of appointments carrying increasing responsibility within his specialist branch. The Prince of Wales (as he then was) served with Charles at sea in HMS FOX, recording his time onboard as amongst his happiest in the Navy. After such excitements Charles retired from the RN in 1989.
During his time as our CEO, in a very different environment, Charles led the Trust’s work to ensure it was financially secure, with increasingly substantial funds and wider charitable objectives. The prime focus of the RMNEF was always on ensuring the educational future of the sons and daughters of those British citizens who had served at sea in the Merchant and Fishing fleets. But in encouraging the Trust to widen its objectives, Charles was instrumental in seeking to increase the range and number of beneficiaries the charity could support. Such work was necessary as the number of potential beneficiaries reduced, due to the modernisation of the Merchant fleet and the fewer number of ships registered as British flag vessels. And in 2015 the Trust, with Charles’s leadership, instigated The Bridge Report to ensure the needs of tens of thousands of dependents were not overlooked, and that awareness was raised of the challenges Merchant Navy families in particular faced. He showed great empathy in his dealings with those families who were assisted.
Charles was always conscious of the need to increase the profile of the charity within the wider Maritime Welfare Charity Sector, a complex and diverse range of charities (of which the main dozen are listed as links on this website). Through his contacts and collaboration with such charities Charles was able to raise the profile of the Trust in a developing environment.
Through a programme of modernisation, the Trust has sought in recent years to rationalise its assets. Charles became responsible for seeing through the Trust’s reduction of its physical estate through the sale of its main asset Bearwood College, together with other buildings and land, including in 2013 the sale of 120 acres to Reading Football Club and subsequently the lease of land to the Bearwood Lakes Golf Course near Reading.
Charles’s enthusiastic and cheerful “Hands on Tiller” approach will be sorely missed. He must take great credit for the fundamental, far-reaching changes he initiated that saw the RMNEF embark on its future endeavours with a clearer purpose and a sure financial foundation.
Charles, thank you, we will miss you.
Written by Simon Cooper, on behalf of the Trustees of RMNEF.