Richard William ('Dickie') Varder, son of John Widdicombe Varder and his wife Ruth Cooper, completed his schooling at a young age, passing the matriculation examination of the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1905. He continued his studies at Rhodes University College, Grahamstown. In 1908, at the age of 19, he was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) with honours in physics by the University of the Cape of Good Hope. The next year he was appointed as lecturer in physics and applied mathematics at Rhodes University College under Professor Alexander Ogg*, being the first lecturer to be appointed from the ranks of the college's former students. In 1911 he obtained the MA degree in physics. A year or so later he went to England and from 1913 to 1915 did research in atomic physics under the direction of Sir Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester. This work did not lead to an additional degree, but was reported in two scientific papers published in the Philosophical Magazine: 'The transformations of actinium C' (with E. Marsden, 1914) and 'The absorption of homogeneous beta rays' (1915).
Upon his return to South Africa Varder was appointed in 1917 as professor of physics at Rhodes University College (from 1951 Rhodes University), succeeding Professor Ogg. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1952, having had a long and distinguished career as an inspirational teacher and tireless university administrator (Austin, 2001, p. 17). However, he produced few publications.
Varder became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1918 and served as president of Section A (which included physics) in 1932. His presidential address was entitled 'Particles and waves' (South African Journal of Science, 1932, Vol. 29).
In December 1919 Varder married Marie-Louise Lesur, with whom he had a son.