Hora est – how many times had he not uttered these words in his over thirty years as the university’s beadle between 1980 and 2013? A thousand times? It could very well be. Solemnly entering the room, dressed in his gown and cap, he positioned himself before the doctoral committee and used his staff with bells to deliver a firm tap on the floor – sometimes interrupting the conversation between the committee and the PhD student – to utter the redeeming words Hora est: time is up, we are done, the defence is over. (Although the conversation sometimes continued on a bit afterwards).

Ton knew exactly what he was doing. He was the personification of academic protocol, with or without his gown, cap and staff. Of course, he initially had to learn the trade when he joined the University Ceremonies Office in 1978, but once he had risen to the rank of beadle – a most honourable position, to be sure – he quickly mastered the rituals and protocols. So much so that he persuaded the medievalist Prof. Jan van Herwaarden to dedicate a booklet to the history of these academic customs, entitled De pedel geboekstaafd (The beadle documented). The booklet was published in 1998 on the occasion of the 85th Dies Natalis.
Earlier, Ton had taken the initiative for a national Beadle Day. The unique, very first gathering at EUR in August 1990 even made the national news. Since then, this Beadle Day has become an annual tradition, held alternately at a Dutch (or Flemish) university, except for the years affected by the pandemic. Dozens of beadles dressed in full regalia always results in a media-friendly image – a sort of academic Night Watch.
And Ton was always there, even after his retirement in 2013, as an unofficial patriarch of the beadleship.

Hora est.
His farewell in late November 2013 was anything but modest, with a procession of speakers highlighting and praising his role as head of academic ceremonies and as a strict (yet flexible) guardian of academic ritual. His last ‘trick’, for which his appointment was extended by a few months, was the solemn celebration of the 100th Dies Natalis on 8 November at
De Doelen with much pomp and circumstance, including royalty in attendance. Ton proudly, aptly and confidently led the way.

Even in retirement, Ton regularly offered his successors the benefit of his advice and commentary – but only when solicited. As a ‘normal’ spectator in the Aula at university events such as the Opening and the Dies, he unmistakably beamed at all those familiar, smiling nods from the procession of professors.
Once his working life was over, he still used to visit emeritus professors who had given him their trust back in the day, often accompanied by Ger Lugtenberg. The university official became a family friend – interested, amiable, modest, but always with his camera (instead of his staff) at the ready. Only recently, he gave a so-called pub lecture in ‘his’ city of Dordrecht, where he was born, raised, served as chairman of the Orange Committee, was royally honoured, became a much sought-after city guide, and ultimately died.
The pub lecture was on beadleship and academic rituals – what else – and delivered with a beer in hand and his characteristic rosy cheeks. In the audience: many visitors and passers-by, including us, his successors, his loved ones, and his friends from Dordrecht. And, of course, his wife Ria, his inseparable companion. Until recently.

Hora est. Where once or twice it may have sounded late during his long tenure as a beadle (nobody is infallible, right), now it sounds too early – far too early – at 75 years of age. Unfortunately we do not get a say when it comes to someone’s lifespan, though medical science might have some influence.
His heart gave out – his heart that was so big and always beat for his family, his colleagues, his friends, and his profession. All that remains for us are the many warm, cherished memories of Ton, whether captured in images or not.

Marleen van Kester, beadle, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Ger Lugtenberg, marketing and communications officer (retired)