Remembering Gil Loescher
The following tributes by RSC staff are taken from the Candles for Gil website set up in memory of Professor Gil Loescher by his family: https://www.candlesforgil.com/in-memorial. A full obituary by Alexander Betts can be found here.
I first met Gil in the late 1990s in Oxford but intellectually he had already cast a bit shadow over my life. I had just completed my PhD and like everyone working on refugees from a political perspective at the time, I had drawn heavily on his work. He was a name – a pioneer in the political study of refugee movements. How lovely it was find that this renowned scholar was a warm and friendly man – prodigiously tall but always speaking to young scholars on his level. Over the last two decades, I’ve had dozens of conversations with Gil, worked with him at the Refugee Studies Centre, and observed a myriad of caring and helpful interactions between him and students and visitors to the Centre. What did I learn? Everyone loved him; everyone respected him – and particularly after he came back from the malevolent attack of 2003 – everybody admired him. It also became clear that Gil was sustained by an extraordinary network of love, support, and strength provided by Ann and his daughters. It was this network, in combination with his own remarkable fortitude, that gave us almost two more decades of Gil than we would otherwise have had. We have lost the rarest of combinations: a great and gentle man.
‘You must come and meet Gil, he’s just flown in, he’s just written Calculated Kindness – the leading book in our field’… insisted Barbara Harrell-Bond in the early days of the RSC in the mid-1980s, commencing Gil’s long and dedicated association with the RSC. And there was Gil – not at all what I expected: immensely tall, with his kind, welcoming, gently smiling, slightly inquisitive face and rather diffident manner – characteristics of his warm personality so familiar to us all and the hallmarks of his sincerity and integrity. So began an academic friendship extending – with many gaps – over almost 35 years, and ending with an office share (with a truculent printer as well) at the RSC in recent years. As others have said, Gil was endlessly generous with his time, genuinely interested in the work, ideas and the life of others, rigorous and totally dependable but not insistent with his advice, humble and never ever a superior despite the quality and enduring importance of his scholarship and the high esteem in which we all held him. But it is for refugees, and the humanitarian world on which his research shed critical yet constructive light, that his legacy is most profound and lasting, inspiring all of us with his own humanity and courage.
Gil was a kind, generous teacher and a truly fantastic colleague. We will miss him enormously at the Refugee Studies Centre. Always thoughtful and interrogative, but at the same time unfailingly kind and empathetic, Gil had the ideal qualities for an academic. He was generous with his time and he always went out of his way to help students and staff with their research. I will especially miss seeing him at our social events, when he would speak with such pride, warmth and love about his family and grandchildren. We have lost a wonderful man and an important colleague and we'll make sure his spirit lives on in the Centre.
It has been a real pleasure to have worked with Gil at the Department of International Development for the last 6 years. He was a very well-liked member of the teaching team, and the students thought the world of him. I, like many of his colleagues, often enjoyed lengthy chats with him about family life. It was abundantly clear that he adored his family, and the company of his numerous young grandchildren. He was always courteous, cheerful, and exuded warmth and good humour. I was so very sad to hear of his sudden passing. It has been incredibly inspiring to learn more about his life, his achievements and his great courage in the face of adversity. I would have liked to have known him better. He will be greatly missed at the department.
Gil was one of the kindest academics I have met and a wonderful ally for me in archival research. He showed me both personal and intellectual support, and I had the chance to conduct multiple rounds of archival research for him at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. I will miss our chats about the unexpected discoveries in the archives and how humanitarian assistance has changed over the decades. The archivists at UNHCR reached out to me to share the following:
'My sincere condolences to you and all the colleagues that worked with Gil Loescher, his work on UNHCR history and evaluation is an example of research and excellent writing skills, he will be missed but his work will continue helping all us to better understand the humanitarian work.'
'I was very sorry to hear today of the passing of Gil. My sincerest condolences to you and all that knew and worked with him, his work will live on and the world is a better and wiser place for it.'
We will miss you, Gil, and we are thinking of you all, Ann and family.