I have a few words about Simon to mark his departure from Exeter. We are more than sorry to be losing you, Simon. You are going not just to the USA but to Florida – the state of hanging chads and tight election results – and our loss is certainly Florida’s gain. Even as we speak, the good burghers of Orlando will no doubt be ‘trumpeting’ your arrival!
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to say a few words; I have known Simon for over ten years and we have been manacled together in Room 118 for at least five years. But we have other areas of common pleasure: an abiding affection for Aberystwyth, a shared sense of humour and an admiration of Spanish Romanesque architecture. But my main reasons for being honoured to have the chance to record my thanks is because we all owe Simon so very much. When I first came to Exeter, I met a former head of history, Christopher Holdsworth, who said of Simon: ‘he’s a great man’.
And this greatness is measured in a number of ways: first, he is an inspirational teacher who always has a string of potential PhD candidates as well as many recent successes to his name. As we shall see, people remember fondly their time of research under Simon’s guidance. Secondly, he is an intellectually generous scholar, keen to encourage insight amongst his students and to give early and encouraging credit when they do so. Thirdly, he is a warm and reassuring friend whose humanity and companionable presence has cheered us all.
I have collected some recollections and there are common themes in all of them. For my own part, I vividly recall an occasion when I suggested that, as an area of research, I might tackle the evolution of the medieval Italian city. Simon looked at me as we might look at friend who has just admitted to having voting Brexit. Nothing was said. The medieval Italian city was never referred to again and I snuggled contentedly into twelfth-century Spain.
Ryan Schwarzrock, from LA, who obtained his PhD in 2014, writes: ‘I would like to pass on my deep gratitude for Simon’s support and assistance through the MA and PhD. Although it took me some time to find traction, Simon continued to have confidence in my project and encouraged me to the end. I am also grateful for his continued support as I have been searching for a full-time position. I also look back fondly on the outings that our cohort made to the pub for drinks and conversation. I was also touched that Simon made a special trip to Bishopsteignton for a farewell lunch before Emily and I sailed back to America.’
Antonella Luizzo-Scorpo, now working at Lincoln, was Simon’s first PhD student: ‘Simon has always been more than just a supervisor for me: he was and still is a guide and a friend, somebody I could share my academic and personal doubts with, always ready to listen and provide advice… with a reassuring smile. The day of my PhD graduation, Simon gave me an A4 sheet of paper with an email printed on it: it was the first message I ever sent him (in very peculiar English, to say the least) when I had just completed my BA in Sicily and I was trying to sort out my life, as well as my academic career. That made me realise that one of the reasons why I feel so much admiration and respect for Simon is because he trusted me from the very beginning! He is an excellent scholar (as we all know) as much as he is an exceptionally kind, wise and caring human being. I am proud of being the first PhD student that Simon supervised and I will always be grateful for what he taught me (including how I can say something in 3 pages rather than 33… so, he basically saved me from Italian writing prolixity!). I wish him all the best for the future and I want to let him know that I always keep his model in mind when I deal with my own students these days…’
And Daniel Roach, another PhD success, draws attention to other aspects of Simon’s qualities: ‘Fun fact 1 – Simon was once quoted as saying, were there a radio programme called Desert Island Drinks, his favourite drink would be Abbot Ale. Fun fact 2 – Simon has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football trivia, particularly relating to the FA Cup in the 1970s and 80s (??) and has been known, from time to time, to publicly quiz undergraduate students who have arrived late to lectures with questions regarding this specialist subject in order to encourage them to not do so again! Simon has consistently been kind and generous with his time – from helping to develop my PhD proposal and the writing of the PhD itself through to publications thereafter. Supervision meetings with him and Julia Crick were regular and greatly stimulated the project as a whole and developed me as a person and a scholar. I have learnt a great deal from Simon’s tactful and diplomatic approach to differing scholarly approaches and am deeply grateful for the way this has shaped me.’
It’s those little acts of kindness, courtesy and generosity that make the most profound impact. And just as Simon no doubt looks back fondly to his own mentor, the late Richard Fletcher, so there will be many generations of Exeter alumni who will remember fondly their time here and whose lives were touched by his enthusiasm and scholarly attention. So we would like to wish you well Simon as a great and attentive teacher, as a magnanimous scholar and perhaps most memorably, as a fine and much-valued friend.
Dr Alun Williams, Associate Lecturer in History