PROFESSOR SIMON ROBERTS
It is with great sadness that we announce the death, on 30 April, of Professor Simon Roberts. Simon first arrived at the School as an undergraduate in 1959 and, after a short period lecturing in Malawi in the early 1960s, from1964 he forged an academic career of great distinction here at the School. Simon produced pioneering scholarship in such fields as anthropology of law, family law, property law and alternative dispute resolution processes, and he served the School in many ways, including as Convenor of the Law Department and as Vice-Chair of the School’s Academic Board. Although Simon formally retired in 2006, he continued to teach for us, especially on our anthropology and law degree programme, the establishment of which was itself Simon’s initiative. Simon will be greatly missed by many generations of his students and colleagues. A celebration of his life will be arranged later this year.
This page will contain messages of condolence, below. If you would like to add a personal message, please email the text to email@example.com
Simon’s death leaves a gaping void, in the law department certainly and also in the School that has been his intellectual home for the entire period of his adult life. He will be missed by many, many friends and colleagues here at the School. But in offering my condolences to Marian and her family, it is an entirely personal debt I want to acknowledge. I can’t over-emphasise the value of the sound guidance Simon has quietly offered me ever since the day – over 40 years ago! – when I first arrived as a callow youth at LSE and had the good fortune to have been allocated Simon Roberts as my personal tutor. Simon has been such a fixture in my life ever since – always being available to provide support, encouragement and advice at so many crucial stages of my career - that now I feel as though a crutch has been knocked away from under me. I could write much more, but – and this is revealing - it would be end up being more about me than Simon … because that’s the way he was. Yet, I can say something about what does live on. Quite simply: Simon has provided me – and no doubt many others – with a remarkable role model of what an academic life might be. He remained constant in his pursuit of the ambition of advancing understanding, of respecting other points of view and thereby encouraging us to work things through for ourselves, and of reminding us not to be seduced by those trinkets and material rewards that can often cause us to be diverted from what it truly important about the academic endeavour. Simon will be much missed, but he lives on through his singular example.
Simon Roberts was a wonderfully friendly man, in my experience, but also an impressive and inspiring colleague. In the context of academia, he also happened to be politically savvy, and to enjoy standing up for what he believed to be right. He supported a number of institutional and intellectual causes in his subtle way - without seeming to care too much about getting credit for having done so.
Teaching dispute resolution at the LSE will never be the same. Simon will remain an inspiration, not least because he has produced some of his best work since ‘retirement’. . The world was always a bigger and more generous place when you looked at it with Simon by your side.
The best of friends, the wisest of colleagues, an irreplaceable loss.
Simon was a wonderful friend, full of spirit, kindness, compassion and wisdom. His passing is a great sadness, and things will never be quite the same without him.
I first got to know Simon when I joined LSE as a young lecturer in 1969. I regarded him as a kindred spirit since we both seemed to have the same attitude to law and indeed to life in general. LSE was a very different place in those days. There was a pervasive air of intellectual seriousness, a seriousness encouraged by such figures as Otto Kahn-Freund, Stanley de Smith and Toby Milsom. Student occupations and the threat of disturbances meant that one never quite knew what to expect from one day to the next. During these difficult times, Simon was remarkable for his unwillingness to fall for the fears and prejudices prevalent in some quarters and his unfailing fair-mindedness. Academically, his most enduring achievement was his ability to bridge the enormous gap between the world of Tswana tribesmen in Africa and English lawyers in London. The School is a poorer place without him.
Simon was always one of the colleagues I liked and valued most in the School when I was still working in the anthropology department. He was always friendly, always reliable, always on the right side during LSE controversies in which he played a key role, and always someone who knew what he was talking about. He was also an exemplary scholar, modest about his outstanding ability and always encouraging to others. When I was head of department, partly overlapping with Simon as head of the law department, his support was invaluable, especially when the bean counters looked too closely at anthropology's rather unsatisfactory financial position. Simon's legal anthropology has also been the best in the field and, more than anyone else, he kept the subject alive in Britain when interest in it went into decline around the 1970s. As a friend and colleague, Simon will be missed very much.
Professor Simon Roberts will always be an inspiration to all ADR enthusiasts. He was an extraordinary man: very thoughtful, very learned, and very accomplished.
Julio César Betancourt
Simon was largely responsible for my becoming an academic, and I’ve often wondered where I would have ended up without his support and encouragement. His kindness and generosity towards me never diminished over the near-on-thirty years that I knew him. He was just a lovely man – time in his company always made a day brighter. I’ll miss him immensely.
Simon was the very model of the LSE academic – pioneering in his work, focussed on the real world, eloquent in his writing and speaking, caring toward students, thoughtful in his concern for the well-being of the Department and the School. He will be very greatly missed.
I was greatly saddened to learn of the loss of Simon Roberts. I recall so many moments as both student and later, colleague:
A Property Law I class, 9 o’clock in the morning, devoted entirely to the sociological aspects of an Oxford college dinner he had attended the night before. ‘What was going on here…’ An indelible lesson in life.
The student Law Society cheering when they heard he had been awarded a personal chair and his most gracious response to our letter of congratulations.
The realization that he was addressing the new first year LLB students as Convener forty years to the day since he had commenced his studies at LSE.
Simon’s observations on civil servants and bureaucracy more generally (!).
A truly memorable Chorley Lecture: ‘After Government? On Representing Law Without the State’.
Sitting on the grass in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in the year of Simon’s formal retirement, receiving generous and enthusiastic feedback on a draft chapter.
Overall, apart from his intellect and his generosity, it was his unbridled enthusiasm for LSE and academic life that I shall most miss.
So very sorry to hear this news. On arrival at the School in 1976 as a member of staff, Simon was the first person I spoke to. We had several interests in common – Africa, Cornwall, and latterly, his ruminations on the City of London and its courts – and it was always a pleasure to see him at lunch in the Senior Dining Room. A terrible loss to scholarship and to LSE.
I feel so fortunate to have met Simon Roberts. He has been a huge influence and a great part of my life. Simon’s kind heart, warmth and erudite guidance made him not only a mentor and dear friend, but like family for me. Since 1996 and for over 10 years, he was my LL.M professor, then my PhD supervisor and subsequently my postdoctoral mentor, when I travelled to Botswana and India for research. In fact, only several weeks ago I was in touch with Simon asking him to join in as consultant in a new empirical project in Asia. Simon was a tremendously positive, giving and generous person. He exuded calmness and constantly gave support, reassurance and stability of mind. He was an extraordinary guiding light, and I shall miss him tremendously. Yet, Simon lives on for me through my research work—which I am passionate about—in law, anthropology and conflict resolution in many lands. I am so grateful to Simon Roberts for having so enriched my life.
Simon was convenor when I joined the Law Department in 1999. I’ll never forget the friendliness, encouragement and compassion he showed over the years. Simon was a real intellectual, but always as ready to talk about culture as about academic matters. A role model.
I first came to know Simon in 1969, in Botswana, largely at the behest of the late Isaac Schapera, also an LSE stalwart and a doyen of legal anthropology, the field that Simon and I shared. We were both young then. So was the country in which we met. Our lives became closely intertwined from then on. We were to be life-long friends and colleagues. Simon and I co-authored a book and several papers together, in the process of which he taught me endless lessons. Some of these were intellectual -- much of my training in legal anthropology really came from him -- some ethical. Simon was the most generous, most ethical, most other-centered scholar I have known in over 40 years in the academy. I still find myself repeating words that Simon said to me to my students, words said in his gentle, sage manner, that quietly wise way of his that gave voice to a razor sharp critical mind. Despite having differed over minutiae in the things we were writing, we never argued, despite both being people who could hold very strong opinions. Simon somehow found ways of chiding me, guiding me, without ever being condescending or less than respectful. It is little wonder that he was widely beloved. widely respected, widely heeded. His influence as a legal anthropologist will endure for a very long time; he was a true giant of his generation, his work read from Beijing to the Bay Area, Cape Town to Kazan. Simon, the scholar and teacher, will be sorely missed. Simon, the human being, even more so. Along with Marian, an equally estimable human being, he opened his home and his heart to innumerable people, people on whose live he leaves an indelible, inimitable impression.
Being Simon's student is the greatest gift that life has bestowed upon me. I was always thankful to him for his thoughtful advice and encouraging words, but only when I started teaching could I fully recognise and appreciate the depth of his devotion to his students. An academic titan in legal anthropology and a marvellous intercultural communicator in everyday life, Simon sensitised his followers to the value of cultural diversity and at the same time showed that wisdom and humour have a universal core.
Simon was great company - he was always interested in other people's work and had remarkably wide interests and knowledge. He was also a very kind and warm person. It was a pleasure and an honour to sit next to him at dinner a couple of years ago when his enormous contribution to LSE was formally recognised by making him an LSE Fellow.
I first came across Simon when his work on legal anthropology appeared on my jurisprudence reading list as an undergraduate. It was a breath of fresh air: short, concise, engaging and, unlike anything else I’d read at university, about Africa. Simon was a joy to work with, a lovely man who was unfailingly courteous, modest and cheerful. He continued to play a very active role in the life of the department after retirement, and the students adored him. It was always a pleasure to see Simon, often with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He will be hugely missed.
Simon was one of my first law teachers at LSE in the good old days when we learnt the intricacies of personal property law! Somehow he made the idea of finding a lost ring in the garden an intriguing moral, social and intellectual problem. His work on legal anthropology opened my eyes as to what legal study could be. Order and Dispute is still one of the most important books I have in my library. We were colleagues for many years at LSE and Simon was always supportive and stimulating. He was also disarmingly witty and had an uncanny ability to see right into an issue or situation. He inspired. He is gone but will live through his work. Thank you Simon!
Just seen this news. A very sad and great loss to many of us.
Simon Roberts has been part of my life since the early 1970s, and there is hardly a week that goes by for me in which he is not intellectually and spiritually present. We first shared a long-standing interest in legal anthropology, field research in Africa and a deep commitment to understanding from how other societies and cultures thought about and practised social control, law and social ordering from their point of view. Simon was the author of some wonderful books, which I still consult regularly, even in the context of other intellectual interests which many might think were far removed from legal anthropology, property law or alternative means of dispute settlement. But Simon was the sort of person, friend and colleague for whom no intellectual interests were far-removed, and this was reflected in his academic work. Openness, receptivity, kindness and an incredible sensitivity to others were among his hallmarks, not just intellectually but also in terms of day-to-day personal relations. Working together on the MLR with Simon and then at the School as Centennial Professor starting when Simon was Convenor of the Law Department would be great experiences for any human being, and so they were for me. These magic years, of which Simon was so much an inspiration, will live forever. I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing. My most sincere condolences to Marian and the rest of his family.
Long before I came to work at LSE in the late 1980s I had admired Simon Roberts from afar as one of the intellectual luminaries that made LSE Law so admired an institution. In particular my colleagues at Bristol and I valued his pioneering work on anthropology and law. Order and Dispute was essential reading for the students of law and society in the Sociology and the Law Departments.
When I met him as a person I was taken by his intellectual and personal integrity, and his friendliness. He had a great, humorous but insightful way with anecdotes. The last time I saw him, in the room we shared with the other retired Law Department Professors, he was telling me about his memories of Patrick McAuslan, who had just died, and recalling joint experiences in Africa and LSE. It was a shock to discover only weeks later that Simon had died too.
I think his great achievement in combining academic excellence with friendly approachability was summed up best by his graduate students. At his retirement party they sported T-shirts bearing the legend ‘Roberts Rocks’.
I was so sad to hear about Simon. Even now I can’t think of him without a smile – his welcoming, and mine of pleasure at seeing him again. Since mutual retirement this didn’t happen often enough. I recall him umpiring (as Vice Chair of the Academic Board) an inter-departmental spat between me and another convenor. The issue seemed momentous at the time. But now I mostly recall Simon’s face, full of quizzical reasonableness as he gently helped us to stop fulminating and get down to the business of resolving our dispute.
I was sad to learn this. Simon taught a legal anthropology class when I was doing an MSc in the early 90s and his seminars were always good fun and instructive. A really good & friendly person to boot.
Simon was a member of the STICERD steering committee, an interdisciplinary setting in which he was in his element. His gentle and courteous manner was coupled with incisive comments. Throughout his career, Simon combined social science and the law in insightful ways and enriched the LSE community both personally and professionally.
I am very sorry to hear about Simon’s death. When involved in School administration I found him to be one of the wisest colleagues, serious about things but with sense of humour. He seemed interested everything even accounting.
Simon's genuine delight in other people and his scholarship will be equally missed. He was a thoroughly nice man and a stimulating intellectual companion. I first met him when I was a postgrad at the LSE. He came to give a talk at a seminar arranged by William Twining at William's home in Oxford. Afterwards, Simon gave me a lift back to London. Of course, typically, he wanted to know all about me - and I told him I had done my first degree at Leicester. "I know a really bright young scholar at Leicester" he said "His name is Tony Bradney". "I'm glad you think he's good" I responded "Because I'm engaged to Tony Bradney!". After that, our academic friendship continued over the years, and I will miss both the warmth of Simon's personality and the depth of his knowledge about legal anthropology, which he was always ready to share in such an unassuming way.
Professor Roberts taught me when I was an LLM and then a PhD student at LSE. He had always been an invaluable source of advice, encouragement and support. He was loved by so many students and he was a truly amazing mentor. Simon will always be in our hearts.
Simon was like a fox, who knew many things with a cunning appreciation of the possible and a delight in the novel and the unexpected, but who had many permanent warm friends in all the fields of knowledge. He drew me to LSE with his brilliance and wisdom, and instilled the soul of the place in all of us.
It’s strange that Simon and I will not be together anymore. We echoed each other most of our lives. Many people thought we looked alike. We were undergraduates together. We got together again teaching at LSE for more than forty years, we were neighbours, we talked almost every other day, our children went to the same school. They too were also mixed up by their teachers. He was interested in anthropology and suspicious of law and, though I was not much drawn to law, I too am an anthropologist who strayed beyond the confines of his subject.
I am not sure death separates those that are close, any more than life does anyway. We talked a lot a short time before he went to the hospice. We talked about W.H.R. Rivers and Toda dairies, about medlars, about our colleagues and students, about Golden Orioles and, in passing, about his nearing death. But neither of us was much interested in that. It was an irrelevance which is why there will not be much of an interruption. Anyway there won’t be with Marian and the children.
Simon was an attentive and inspiring supervisor and colleague. He was a true academic, a pure scholar, with vast knowledge.
Simon was a mensch.
It is so difficult to write in the past tense.
We are grieving with the LSE Law faculty and with his family.
Edite Ronnen and Eran Yashiv
I received my first lecture in ADR from Simon whose book jointly authored with Michael Palmer became the standard text for a slew of training programmes I conducted in over 20 countries of the world . Simon was a teacher in the true sense of the word . He exuded so much passion for the subject of mediation and contributed significantly to discussions on many ongoing issues such as the relationship of lawyers with mediators .Apart from his seminal contribution to the field of ADR , he will be remembered for being a warm, friendly and above all, a generous human being . I am deeply indebted to him for a great deal I have learnt about this field.
In the wake of the sadness and shock of Simon’s death, I am treasuring with gratitude so many memories of him as a mentor and colleague. He embodied a commitment to legal scholarship deeply informed by the social sciences; a devotion to his students, to his subject, and to the LSE; an endlessly inquiring and sharp intellect; and an unfailing generosity. Of all my colleagues at LSE, he has been the one who has most regularly initiated an exchange of ideas, and our discussions of legal theory have fundamentally changed the way in which I think about the subject.
But this description fails to capture something which was central among his qualities and to his charm. This was a kind of lightness, which realised itself in that twinkle in his eye which others have mentioned, and which on occasion expressed itself in bouts of puckish humour – yet combined with a passionate seriousness in relation to the things he cared about. I well remember a robust argument at a Modern Law Review Committee meeting, about some aspect of our editorial policy or, perhaps, relations with our publishers, in which we found ourselves on opposite sides of the debate. After a full and frank (!) rehearsal of the arguments either way, Simon’s brow quickly unfurrowed, as he shot me an amused smile and expressed his regret that I didn’t ‘understand the folkways of the MLR’. This lightness, like his joy in life, carried over into everything he did: the way I will remember him is as someone who, if one attempted to sympathise with him about some problem or administrative chore, would declare, with a conviction that was all his own: ‘Niki, I am a very, very lucky person.’
The luck, of course, was ours: and it consisted in a further thing about Simon which I would like to mention, though it is hard to describe. Perhaps it can be conveyed by saying that he was very much a whole person: by which I mean that he approached colleagues not merely as individuals with careers in the same institution, but as people with relationships, ideals and interests; and he engaged with us on the basis of his own whole personality, rather than solely from his institutional or professional position. This quality was reflected in his personal and professional relationship with Marian, which it was always so enriching to be around; and by his delight in introducing colleagues to his grandson Jacob, whose visits to LSE with Simon are remembered by many of us with great affection.
Simon has been my mentor and friend since 2003. It has been such a colorful and unforgettable experience working with Simon since then, first as his student and then as his colleague. Ten years is short but I truly learned a great deal from Simon, who played a model role for me in many aspects. His intellect, kindness, generosity, and humor impressed me. I felt great fortunate to translate his well-known book, Order and Dispute, into Chinese, and he was happy with the Chinese edition of that book. Sadly he will not see the Chinese edition of his book Rules and Processes: The Culture Logic of Dispute in an African Context (with Comaroff). His Chinese audience will tremendously benefit from his books. Simon passed away, but Simon's deeds abide.
I only met Simon once when we invited him to visit our law school and gave a keynote speech at the 3rd East Asian Law and Society Conference held by our law school in March 2013 in Shanghai. We were very lucky to have Simon visit us as it turned out to be the case that his keynote speech was viewed as one of the most inspiring and informative talks in that conference. Apart from his intellect, Simon is also a warm and kind person. I believe that it is a big loss to the law and society scholarship without Simon. I, together with my colleagues, will miss Simon.
Simon and I lived in the same street in Lewisham for a quarter of a century. I discovered that by accident when, shortly after moving there, I bowled one day into a slam door carriage at Blackheath station to find Simon already there. We were soon in animated conversation and I was quickly invited to number 73 with that generosity in which he and Marian excelled. And the invitations continued, so that we spent many a boxing day warming ourselves by the wood fire he proudly tended. That did not mean that Simon was an uncritical friend and my role in the Blair government attracted some stick. But points having been made, the discussion moved on with another School anecdote and his characteristic smile and outwardly thrust arms. One was always assured of the warmest of welcomes at 73, including from daughter Sara and more recently grandson Jacob.
Simon was devoted to the School. He was there as a student and, apart from a short time in Africa, for the whole of his academic life. He was delighted to have in his room at the School the chair and table once used by Chorley. As a scholar his work in both law and anthropology and alternative dispute resolution was path-breaking. His last book, on the City of London Mayoral Court, brings together many of the threads of his work, notably for me the crucial importance of empirical work, conducted within a theoretical framework. The research enabled him to re-establish a friendship with the resident judge there, Bill Birtles, whom he met on a Union Castle boat to Africa, more than 40 years previously. Simon was an outstanding scholar, but with an engaging modesty about his reputation and achievements.
As well as a street in south-east London, Simon and I shared another part of the world. Simon’s father spent part of the 1920s as a stockman in Queensland, my home state. Simon had been to Australia, to visit his son Adam, a psychiatrist in Perth. But in recent years Simon had planned a visit, travelling around Queensland, to see the places his father worked. I insisted, were he to do it, that he would need a “ute” and a dog, for his father would surely have had a dog to help in mustering. For a while the ute and dog seemed a possibility but sadly, with his illness, the plan never came to fruition.
My life was enriched by Simon; I will miss him greatly.
Simon was a fine, imaginative scholar, who managed to work effectively in two very different academic fields. The conclusions he drew from his experience in law and in anthropology inspired him to make major contributions to the study of dispute processing. As a person he was fun to be with; always likely to come up with something unusual and amusing in conversation. He could be whimsical, oblique, seemingly bewildered, mischievously provocative, direct, and sharply observant of people and situations. For many years I taught weekly with him (and with Tim Murphy and David Nelken) an intercollegiate University of London LLM Law and Social Theory course. It was an opportunity for learning together, for the four of us as for the students. In discussion, it was often Simon who would say least, but when he contributed it was to good effect. The rumour was that the students often waited for him to come in with the devastating summary that might finally tie the threads of our intense debates together. He could be relied on for strong conclusions delivered in a deceptively modest way.
Coming so soon after the death of Patrick McAuslan, Simon's passing is another huge loss to African legal scholarship. Although Simon subsequently distinguished himself in a number of fields, perhaps his first major contribution to the study and practice of law lay in Botswana, where, before joining the staff of the LSE, he was a member of the SOAS Restatement of African Law Project. The fruits of his pioneering work in customary law are relied upon by the local courts to this day. Subsequently, he maintained the SOAS connection by serving for many years as an editor of the Journal of African Law, to which task he brought an exacting scholarship which did much to sustain the Journal's reputation. He remained a warm and supportive friend of the SOAS Law Department where his wise counsel and dry wit will be greatly missed.
Jim Read and Peter Slinn
As one of Simon’s many former doctoral students no words of mine could adequately describe my sense of Simon’s loss to academia, and to our understanding of the evolution of disputes processes.
As Shakespeare said: “When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars, as he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
I have been greatly saddened to learn of Simon’s death. Early in 1963 Simon and I both arrived to be law teachers at the Malawi (then Nyasaland) Institute of Public Administration. We were both recent law school graduates (LSE and HLS) on our first assignments. We were the entire law faculty at the Institute, preparing a dozen or so students each term for what was then called Part I of the British Bar Examination and teaching newly-minted local court lay judges the rudiments of civil and criminal procedure. We also became housemates and travelled together on school holidays. It fell to each of us to introduce the other to the vagaries of English and American culture. I was part of a group of American Peace Corps teachers, and Malawi was at that date still under British colonial administration. These are among the very happiest days of my life, and I believe also of Simon’s. We never had a disagreement or cross word. Simon was the best man at my wedding in Malawi in December, 1963. On our return from Africa in 1965 we stayed with Simon and his elderly parents at their cottage in or near the New Forest. . . . We were reunited in London a few years ago to recall our days together. Although we had parted more than 40 years ago, it was as if we were able to pick up exactly where we left off in Malawi, talking about everything and anything throughout the day and evening with Simon and Marian (also a great treasure) . . . What a kind and gentle man Simon was. He will be greatly missed by all those whose lives he touched. Simon had the rare gift of improving everyone and everything he came into contact with, just by being present and being Simon.
Whenever someone asks me how I started in socio-legal research, I always say it was through attending Simon Robert's class on anthropology of law. A new world of what law meant opened to me. New ways of discovering how people ordered themselves without a state. It was exciting, accessible, alien and I was captured. I saw that there were many aspects of the law world besides courts to research. Simon was patient, encouraging and critical when necessary. Last year he asked me to be an external examiner to one of his PhD students. The topic was 17th century Norwegian Ting protocols! Not my usual field, but I'm glad it was his student because under Simon's guidance the student wrote a thesis that I could both understand and enjoy. I shall miss him.
Simon was warm, quiet and thoughtful. His academic work was beautifully crafted and influential. So often anthropological research remains buried in the professional journals or consigned to the exotic. It was Simon’s great achievement to make his work on Tswana law relevant to the UK and other settings. We send Marian and the family our sincere condolences on his passing.
Robin and Selina Cohen
Simon Roberts was our neighbour and became a friend. Like some other brilliant people he was unassuming, never boasted nor drew attention to himself. He often made me laugh, especially when we travelled together to Charing Cross – usually he was on his way to the School; we would discuss the political issues of the day and there was always much to learn from those discussions. We treasure him and will continue to treasure Marian and his children who are friends of our children. The first time I met him (this was long before we became friends) was when he came to look for me in the LSE canteen – he’d heard that I was a mature student in the Anthropology Department and wanted to give me a welcome. This was typical of the man and his warm and generous spirit. His lectures were inspirational. These streets will never be the same without his familiar figure, walking or on his bicycle, or, more recently, pushing his last grandchild in a buggy. Simon will remain a shining light for me, to keep me going. Always I will value his intellect, his trustworthiness, his wisdom and his warmth.
I was very sad to hear of the death of Professor Simon Roberts. Dr. Roberts, as he then was, was my tutor at LSE between 1981 to 1984.I shall always remember his gentle nature, kindness and support.