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Sally Sainsbury

As a scholar and researcher Sally was a leader in the field of disability and social policy.

Sally Sainsbury who died in June worked in the Department  for half a century. She was a dedicated, unstinting and much loved colleague.Sally first came to the London School of Economics in 1962 to study for the Graduate Diploma in Social Administration at LSE, having previously graduated in History at Queen Mary College. (Very recently she wondered whether she would have been better sticking to medieval history rather than going into social administration – it would have been our loss).  She worked for five years as research assistant first with Peter Townsend and then with Brian Abel-Smith. She worked ‘with’ them rather than ‘for’ them because, although she never sought celebrity she contributed as much to their work as she learned from them. Brian was always very respectful of her knowledge and judgement. She became an assistant lecturer in 1969 and then taught continuously until her retirement when she became Emeritus Reader in Social Administration. She then continued her research until shortly before her death.

For 35 years Sally was on the teaching staff in the LSE Department of Social Administration. She taught on the history of social policy, on personal social services and on disability. One senior colleague, Professor Jane Lewis,  said she taught her all she knew about teaching. She was truly dedicated to her students often relishing the challenge of the recalcitrant and not fully committed student as much as the ability of the most gifted. She was at different times responsible for undergraduates, for admissions and was Adviser to Disabled Students throughout LSE. Julian Le Grand, when head of department, wrote of her:

“Sally Sainsbury is one of those essential members of the Department on whom all the rest of us depend. I know that whatever task I give her she can be depended on to perform it reliably and conscientiously. But her contribution is greater than that. In much of her work she takes the initiative, operating with flair and imagination…  She is an archetypal good citizen. She is very reluctant to put herself forward but she is a pillar of the department.”

As a scholar and researcher Sally was a leader in the field of disability and social policy. Perhaps the most important of her many studies was Deaf Worlds. As Jack Ashley, pioneering MP on disability who himself lost his hearing, wrote in the Foreword: “ By making a case study of profoundly deaf people in all settings, Sally Sainsbury has illuminated a scene hitherto shrouded in darkness.” Sally showed the extent of communication and community among deaf people and described the parallel lives many deaf people led with virtually no contact with the rest of the population.  She showed how most services found it easier to make decisions on behalf of deaf people rather than taking the time and acquiring the skills in sign language to give voice and control to the deaf people themselves. It was an important study that challenged fashionable and simplistic notions of “integration” into “normal” life. Often integration meant dispersal of deaf people into schools or housing where they had no one they could communicate with or it meant services for “the disabled” that failed to recognise the very different problems faced by profoundly deaf people from those faced by those without sight or with other physical or mental disabilities. She was brave enough to show that a deaf community with its distinct language of signing often represented a fuller human existence than supposedly “integrated” living that often meant isolation.Deaf Worlds immediately established itself as the authoritative account of the social world of deaf people. Its importance was widely recognised; one reviewer put it on a par with the great pioneering studies in social policy.  It is not easy to evaluate the impact of such a study but it undoubtedly contributed to breaking down the ignorance that existed about deaf people. Instead of a gulf of distrust and fear of difference between deaf people and notionally normal people – between “them “and “us” – a wider range of people came to be accepted as having a common humanity. That Sally helped significantly in that endeavour was a major achievement.

Through her teaching Sally influenced many hundreds of lives, through her writing many thousands of lives. We were fortunate to have her as a colleague.

But it is as a friend that we knew her and now mourn her illness and death and celebrate her life.  In her life, she was honest and humorous, she was insightful and often very candid, she was warm and waspish. She was a Quaker she always saw the “light within” – whether it was in the student wholly unprepared for a class, in a pompous or curmudgeonly colleague or in someone cut off from others by profound deafness. She was always considerate and supportive, caring and committed. 

All those who were her colleagues at LSE give thanks for her life.

Professor David Piachaud

(Based on a tribute delivered at Sally’s Funeral, 12 July, 2013)