Stories & Updates

A legacy gift to Write the Next Chapter

8th September 2021

In 2019 Exeter College received a legacy gift from lawyer, author and university professor Philip Pettit, who sadly died in November 2017. The first of three generations to study at Exeter College, it was Philip’s wish that Exeter should receive a substantial legacy, in gratitude for the start the College gave him in his adult life.

Philip pictured with his wife Patricia, his son Charles and his grandson Richard

Philip Henry Pettit (born 1925) first went up to Exeter College in 1942, the first of three generations to attend the College, being followed by his son Charles (1971, English) and then his grandson Richard (2000, Jurisprudence). 

Initially Philip read Modern History but war service then intervened and after one academic year at Exeter he spent the next four years serving in the Royal Navy. When he returned to Exeter in 1947 he changed to Jurisprudence, and evidently the law suited him as he took a First (1949) and indeed spent almost his entire working life teaching law (after a few years as a barrister in the Middle Temple). His career culminated in many years as Professor of Equity at the University of Bristol, where he served two terms as Dean of the Faculty and three years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University. Following early retirement from Bristol, he became Professor of Equity at Buckingham University until his final retirement in 1990. His legal writings included Equity and the Law of Trusts, which went into 12 editions (the last edition being in 2012 when he was 87) and which was used by many generations of university students, including his grandson Richard when he was at Exeter. 

Philip thoroughly enjoyed college life, and played hockey for Exeter. He always valued his connection with Exeter, and was delighted when his son and grandson in turn went up to Exeter and greatly enjoyed visiting College to see them there. He attended at least one Gaudy, and while Richard was at the College they both attended one annual dinner of the Fortescue Society. Oxford was also important in his life in that there he met Patricia Litt of St Anne’s, whom he married in 1950 and who shared the rest of his long life with him. 

Philip was always quite clear that he wanted to leave a substantial legacy to Exeter when he died, in gratitude for the start it gave him in his adult life and to help future generations of undergraduates. His children Charles and Marguerite were pleased to carry out his wishes by directing £75,000 to College, and felt that donating the legacy towards the restoration of the Library was very appropriate in view of the importance of libraries to their father.