Students Staff
University of Essex

June 29, 2017

In celebration of Professor Anthony King 1934 – 2017

Professor Anthony King was a giant of political science and one of our longest serving members of staff. In celebration of his life a memorial service was held at Speaker’s House in the House of Commons where more than 120 guests attended.

A welcome and tribute was given by The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons along with tributes from Professor Albert Weale, University College London and a former Professor of Government at Essex, Peter Kellner, journalist and political analyst, Seth Dubin, a longtime friend of Professor King from New York and Mrs Jan King. Performers from the Suffolk Villages Festival performed Laudate Dominum (Psalm 150) and the guests gathered afterwards for a drinks reception with a toast to Professor King given by Professor Sir Ivor Crewe.

Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster paid tribute to the life and work of one of Essex’s most inspirational teachers, thinkers and writers:

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The memorial to Professor Tony King was held in the Speaker’s House in the Houses of Commons.

As the sixth Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex I am truly honoured to be here to pay tribute to Tony who has made such an extraordinary contribution to our world for almost the entire history of the University’s 53 years.

It is hard to overestimate Tony’s impact. When I mention the University of Essex around the world people will almost always ask me about ‘Professor King’. They recall seeing Tony on television especially on Election night they remember hearing or being told by friends about his amazing lectures or  they talk about the influence of his books or articles on their thinking. They know Essex through Tony.

Tony was attracted to Essex in 1966 because of our commitment to intellectual rigour and our determination to do things differently and for five decades Tony came to symbolise these values.

He combined what we admire most: intellectual brilliance combined in equal measure with personal warmth, humour and personal humility and it is this wonderful cocktail which informed his approach to his teaching and research and to his life.

It is no surprise that Tony played a key part in the leadership of the University, mentoring many junior staff; serving as Head of our world leading Department of Government from 1968 to 1971, then again from 1985-86. And from 1986 to 1989 he was also a Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

In his beautifully phrased tribute to our founding Vice-Chancellor Sir Albert Sloman Tony described what he believed to be the strengths of the University of Essex.

He said Essex is “a genuine community. People care about the place. Members of the academic staff do research and publish the results of their research. They work hard, and they think.”

“It is also a University that, unlike some, takes teaching very seriously and is very good at it.”

It is striking for me to read every one of the many tributes which poured in for Tony from around the world. They confirm that Tony was an intellectual giant who was also a great teacher who made time for his students and cared about them.

It was his lectures and tutorials that were often times the highlight of a student’s time at Essex; always inspirational and sometimes changing people’s lives and inspiring their future career choices. I am delighted so many of Tony’s former students have made such an impact on public life and that so many are here today.

People respected Tony for his tough-mindedness, but they were also touched by his humanity – his kindness and thoughtfulness and his wisdom.

One of the dozens of online tributes by former students reads: “ I will always remember Professor King’s inspirational Monday morning lectures that made me think about politics in a fresh way. Despite his research responsibilities, he was never too busy to discuss matters with students.”

Another recalled: “His lectures were impeccably prepared and delivered with contagious enthusiasm, his classes were the highlight of the politics timetable, and the door to his office was always open.”

That former student points out that Tony was also “scrupulously fair”. He said: “I got a First in 1984 despite rudely questioning both his impartiality and the politics of the SDP in the letters pages of The Guardian.”

A bottle of champagne was the prize Tony used to offer to students who correctly predicted 13 General Elections that took place during his time at Essex. I wonder what he would have made of the many former students who admit in their tributes to Tony that they didn’t actually drink the champagne but kept the bottle he gave them as the ultimate trophy from their time at Essex.

One former student who had actually earned a bottle of champagne for predicting one of the closely fought general elections of 1974 added: “I won but, more important was that Tony also spent an individual half hour with me that I have treasured ever since!”

Kevin Featherstone who went on to become  Head of the European Institute at the London School of Economics said in his tribute: “Generations of students are not only in his debt, they will also look back with a smile and count themselves amongst the most fortunate of all.”

Tony would often end his emails with the phrase ‘in haste’. This seems to encapsulate his restless energy. Tony was someone on a mission someone who had things to do – whether it be meeting politicians and civil servants writing award-winning books keeping in touch with former students or preparing a key note lecture.

Tony not only kept himself busy he also had a prodigious work rate. Somehow amongst all his teaching and research commitments Tony found space to be a public intellectual speaking with incredible insight always infused by sharp wit and warm humour which entranced listeners “connected” with BBC election night audiences and of course entertained friends.

Tony’s  love for his subject remained absolutely undiminished throughout his life and our love for his work – his breadth of knowledge his turn of phrase his astute analysis – remains undiminished too.

It is for this reason that at the University of Essex we are establishing a named Chair in the Department of Government – the Anthony King Chair in Comparative Government to ensure we can continue to honour Tony’s amazing contribution to our community and to political science – and to ensure his legacy lives on for past, current and future generations.

Thank you.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor

Donations in Professor King’s memory can be made to the Dedham Ward Acute Cardiac Unit at Colchester General Hospital. You can donate via the Colchester Hospitals Charity website www.cohoc.org.uk. Or you can donate via telephone on 01206 745303.

 

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