Tributes and Memories

Tributes to Professor John Urry.


186 thoughts on “Tributes and Memories

  1. I have just heard of John’s death, having come from New Zealand this summer for a holiday in Britain and Europe. It is a very sad occasion and a great loss to British sociology. I was one of his early Ph.D. students, having got an overseas scholarship from the New Zealand UGC in 1975. During the next four years I was closely involved with John – not just through his supervision: babysitting Tom and Amy, living for a time with him in his house on Bellevue Tce, playing tennis with him and my other supervisor Lee Beier (History) on the terrible pebbly courts that Lancaster had in those days, participating in a reading group also involving Bryan Turner and Nick Abercrombie and so on.

    I was particularly struck by his open, thoughtful and welcoming but quiet approach – which was certainly appreciated by someone from far away. I would say that we had an excellent student-supervisor relationship which bore fruit in a thesis that while ambitious was completed successfully and published. John was not a pushy supervisor, being content to offer suggestions, remain in the background and quietly steer things along. I was attracted to him by the work that he was engaged in at that time – the middle class, power and a ‘realist’ theory of social science. Let’s not forget that early book by Keat and Urry. I also found his own (published) Ph.D. on Indonesia and the revolution of rising expectations stimulating and with some parallels to my planned work.

    John remained a very good friend to me (and to Susan Shipley, my wife who also studied at Lancaster in sociology). He visited New Zealand and built some of his experiences there into the tourist gaze concept. Despite his eminence in the sociological community he remained exactly the same person – friendly, approachable, considered, helpful and thoughtful. He had an enquiring, original and restless mind – moving on to new ideas. He was content to remain at Lancaster – it was his roving mind rather than a roving ambition that probably drove him.

    I can see from other tributes that John continued to have a huge impact on a large number of people and that his loss is sorely felt. His contribution to Lancaster University and to British sociology was immense over the more than forty years he was there.

    John Martin (and Susan Shipley)

  2. John’s death is a great loss to all those who are committed to the future of sociology, and to all those who have been supported, befriended and inspired by him over his long career. While I had known of his work since I became a sociologist, I got to know John personally only when I became HoD of Sociology at Goldsmiths in the early 1990s, and his advice, support and encouragement was absolutely vital to me personally, and to my colleagues as we rebuilt that wonderful department over the next decade. His generous personal and intellectual support continued when I moved to the LSE, and more recently, in the project, here at King’s, to ‘revitalise’ urban sociology. John’s commitment to the crucial part that rigorous and inventive sociological research could play in progressive politics never wavered, and he carried this forward, not only in his own research, but also in his commitment to the mundane but demanding work of discipline building. I know my own experience was mirrored for many others who John advised, supported and stimulated through his own research, his personality, and his example. He will be much missed.

  3. So sad to hear the news about John. When I got to Lancaster for me he epitomised the Sociology department. Always modest about his own achievements and encouraging with time to listen, advise and encourage. He was instrumental in helping me to find a home within Sociology and to pass that enthusiasm on to others

  4. I was taught by John in 2014-2015 during my Masters. It was a pleasure and privilege to be taught by someone so insightful and enthusiastic, a true great of Sociology (but always humble). Beyond his academic words, he was truly caring and kind and always had time to talk and listen. I am sad because he had so much energy and insight to give to academia, but his spirit and ideas will continue and develop in all the minds that he touched.

  5. I was a student at Lancaster 1982-85 and John Urry made a huge impression on me. Indeed Lancaster sociology department at that time inspired me to continue in academia and in sociology (latterly in a business school at Cardiff). Difficult to believe it was 30 years ago! John made a lasting impression and if I can inspire my students like he did, I will feel it was all worth while.

  6. Like others here, I have fond memories of John stretching back 30 years. He always had a kind word for everyone and never felt himself too important to help others produce their best.

  7. I was saddened (and shocked ) to read of John’s death in the THES this week. I did not know him well but he was always important in my thinking from the earliest of years ( believe it or not on reference groups!). I met him when he was an external examiner at Essex and found him to be a very kind and caring man. I liked him a lot. I see this echoed in so many of these comments. I loved his work on mobilities, and most recently his work on Offshoring prompted me to write a note to him. It was so inspirational. A pity he has not been around this week as his concerns become a public issue! A modest but inspiring man who has left a major mark on sociology. A vey sad loss.

  8. I first met John Urry when I was being interviewed for a job in Women’s Studies back in 1993. I never in a million years thought I would get that job, so I was quite relaxed and I remember laughing and the conversation bouncing around. I knew he really supported my appointment and my work and he expressed his support to me in many ways in the 10 years I was at Lancaster, probably more than I appreciated at the time. A lot of us who ‘grew up’ at Lancaster who arrived as early career academics benefited from that support, often given quietly. I also remember really clearly sitting next to John at my first ever external examiner’s dinner in 1994 – I was so nervous – and he told me about when he arrived at Lancaster all those years before as someone just as young and nervous. I remember thinking: this is a conversation in time. I can’t recall the many seminars I attended without also recalling his words and wisdom: I used to love that about Lancaster, waiting to hear the familiar voices of my colleagues; it often seemed a bit like a melody all of its own. He really embodies and expresses what is special about Lancaster as an intellectual community: warmth, kindness, staying close to the ground, sharing a sense of curiosity about worlds. It is right to use the present tense – his mark is everywhere and his influence so wide. He will be missed so much by so many but will be here, in the unfolding of our conversations.

  9. I benefitted greatly from John Urry’s research on new mobilities. I pray for comfort and peace for his family and colleagues at Lancaster University.

  10. I am very sorry to hear of the death of John Urry. I remember John from way back in the 70s when I was an undergraduate in the sociology department at Lancaster. I can recall John’s pleasant disposition and how fellow students regarded him as such an inspiring person. My sincere condolences to John’s family and friends.

  11. I was searching the internet for information on one of John’s books this evening and was shocked to discover his passing. He was such an inspiring and generous intellectual giant. We met a couple of years ago at a World Social Science Council event in Rio de Janeiro, where he gave a fascinating lecture on the challenges of climate change for human behaviour. It was full of originality and acute insights. I proudly introduced him to my fellow South Africans as one of the leading sociologists in the world, but he would have none of it and was more interested in hearing what they had to say than in expounding his own ideas.

  12. The news finally sunk in, I guess.

    As many others, I have been profoundly influenced by John’s work and his truly superhuman personality. I met him several times, first time in 2007 as an aspiring Russian masters student seeking opportunities for continuing education abroad. Lancaster – and working with John – was one of the possibilities, and it was profoundly important for a beginning scholar to hear and read words of encouragement and support from one of the world’s leading researchers. Although I ultimately went elsewhere and my career and interests took a turn away from sociology, John’s writing has been a constant presence, a book or two of his always within reach from my work desk. Indeed, to a large extent I ended up being – and keeping – excited about basic psychological processes in natural scene perception through reading and re-reading Urry on gaze and on cities.

    It never ceased to amaze me that while I did not really keep in touch with John, we would occasionally meet at a conference or a seminar here and there, and he would always remember me at first sight. And here is a small memory from one of such chance encounters: once at a conference where big names were escorted around and carefully placed in prominent luxury first row seats, with paper slips marking whose seat this is, John ended up coming to a packed room just a minute too late. The presenter froze, a couple organizers tried rushing to find him a “proper seat” but John quickly, politely, and insistently refused and simply sat on the floor where only students were sitting, stretching out his long legs and asking the presenter to ignore this intrusion.

  13. Shocked and with a profound sadness I fell across the information of John’s sudden death when visiting the webside of the latest issue of BJS. I met with John and Sylvia already in the 1980’s when we were trying to set up some exchange program between Lund University and Lancaster. Much later, having moved to Copenhagen with the task of initiating a new sociology department, I run across John again. In the process of hiring new staff, he told me how Lancaster became one of the most succesful sociology program in the UK: to get the best people around no matter what their fields of studies. My most recent memories of John came from our joint panel work in evaluating ERC-proposals over several consecutive years enlightened by John’s all present humour and generous spirit of mind in renewing the sociological endeavour. And now, he is no longer with us….Can anyone mantle his greatness?
    My warmest thoughts to Sylvia and his family

  14. John was one of our best panel members when he was serving in the ERC, from 2008 till 2012, as Panel Member. In this role his awesome encyclopaedic knowledge of social sciences was of the utmost help to assess at best the highly interesting, interdisciplinary and sometimes quite complex research proposals under scrutiny. In addition to his incredible expertise he was also highly valued by his peers thanks to his charismatic and lovely personality as well as his marvellous sense of humour! I will sorely miss our conversations and all the good times in and out of our panel meeting room!

    Thanks a billion dear John and please find peace and fascinating companions to talk with, wherever you have chosen to be for the rest of Times…
    All my most sincere condolences to his Family and all his beloved ones…

  15. I have known John since 1994, first as supervisor and then as colleague. Every single time I have met him I met an energetic, productive and inspiring person and, reflecting back now, every single time it was pleasurable to be with him. It is very sad to lose him, not only as an academic giant but also as a sensitive, caring person who had the skills and abilities to hold many a diverse people together.

    It is painful to imagine the department without John. We will miss him a lot.

  16. I was soaked in Prof. Urry’s Mobility and Tourist Gaze articles when shockingly heard this sad news. My heart was suddenly emptied and I felt I lost so much of my strength. I always hope I can meet Prof. Urry in person someday but now it becomes an regretful dream. I wish him peace and happiness in heaven. And we shall carry on to make his thoughts inspire more people.

  17. A huge loss to Lancaster University, our discipline, academic community and beyond! My sincere condolences to John’s family and friends!

  18. I was taught sociological theory by John during my undergraduate years from 1970-1973. Our seminar group was incredible, including three students who went on to be appointed professors of sociology. During the spring term, John volunteered to take his turn and write a ‘student paper’ about Ethnomethodology! He threw us in at the deep end, thank goodness, and laid the foundation of all the research I have undertaken as a sociologist. My deep gratitude to John is difficult to express. He was encouraging, demanding, tolerant, kind and a friend. Rest in Peace, John.

  19. I first met John when I arrived at Lancaster University in 1991 to take up the post of Staff Development Officer, with particular responsibility for academic staff. As you can imagine, this wasn’t a particularly popular role with many people. I decided I would arrange to meet as many people across the university as possible to get a sense of the place, listen to how colleagues were thinking and work out how I could best fulfil what I had been appointed to do. My first port of call was heads of department and faculty deans. Whilst many HoDs were polite but cool in response to my overtures, John, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at that time, was quite different. He listened, was friendly, and treated me like a human being rather than an agent of oppression sent from University House. His suggestion that I come along to a faculty meeting showed a sensitive understanding of the difficulty of my role and acted as a subtle endorsement of me as a person and the work I had been appointed to do. I was very grateful.

    More latterly my contacts with John have been via the Lunesdale Tennis Club, playing social and match tennis. What a wonderful partner he was. As I am a bit on the small side having John playing alongside me was reassuring. His height and reach at the net, his utterly gracious responses to my less than brilliant shots and his warm encouragement when the shots went well made playing tennis with him a delight. We were partnered in a veterans match only a few weeks ago against a very much stronger team. As we went on court he remarked that we would be lucky to get a game off our opponents. But we did – we got two! But gave good account of ourselves in many others. John’s ‘height and reach’ were physical, but also describe his personality, his intellect, his effect on the world. I am very happy that I knew him and that his life and work will continue to resonate in so many ways.

  20. As an engineer collaborating with John on the highly cross-disciplinary and complex challenge of researching future cities – via the Liveable Cities programme grant – I can perhaps best sum up the experience as an absolute privilege. I learnt a very great deal from working with John, in all sorts of ways, and I know this to be true also for the Liveable Cities team as a whole. Although it can be said of very few, he was a great man; and indeed we shouldn’t use the past tense since his work will live on into the far future.

    When the shocking news broke, I received many messages from the Liveable Cities team, and these taken together provide an eloquent testimony as to how John will be missed by the consortium: an absolutely lovely man who I deeply respected … always open, humble, thoughtful and supportive in his dealings with me (a PhD student) and colleagues … his intelligence, passion for his work, and his sense of humour will be missed … A unique scholar … what tragic news – of course for John’s family, but also for the world in general, which will miss his innovative and farsighted insights … a rarity amongst his peers in that his work was both profound and understandable … extremely kind, passionate, critical and a really bright individual, who always carried a sparkle… a loss to us all, I will certainly miss John’s intellect and his contribution to the project.

  21. One of the first people to greet me when I arrived at Lancaster University was John–he made me feel part of the Lancaster family. Although I never worked with him I knew him through the Academy of Social Sciences, where he played an invaluable role on the Council of the Academy. As Chair of AcSS I frequently sought out John for his wise counsel and advice on some very touchy issues, and he was always there for me. He was not only a great scholar but also a very very nice person, always helping people in need with a smile on his face. I will miss you John….

  22. I knew John for 39 years. For at least 15 of those years if not more I was very much ‘Lash & Urry’. I was even greeted at conferences so often by ‘oh, you’re Lash & Urry’. This was always meant warmly. This was also always a good thing. We were friends/colleagues at Lancaster and in Lancaster for 21 years. The obsequies at the Midland Hotel says it all. My phone calendar still says ‘meet John for coffee and croissants at the Euphorium in Upper Street on Wed 23 March at 1000 AM’. I was off to China the next day and time was a bit tight. It was on the 22nd I think that I got phone call on John’s passing. I lost co-author Ulrich Beck last year. A bad loss. But John and I were nearly day-to-day friends for the 39 years. Played tennis at Lunesdale Club. Friday night pints. Both supporting Northern, and for a few years now Championship, football clubs. I came down to London in 1998. Since then most every Christmas I would get up to Lancashire with my sons for the football, a game of poker with other old Lancaster friends and wonderful morning breakfasts at Sylvia and John’s. Boy, will I miss these.

    I almost want to write RIP,


  23. I’m still finding it hard to believe that John is gone, and am very sorry not to be able to attend the funeral on Monday.

    John co-supervised my phd along with Simon Bainbridge in English from 2006-2010. Our supervisions were not only intellectually stimulating, but inspiring and pleasurable. As a newcomer to the field of sociology he never made me feel on the back foot, but always had just the right text to recommend, and the right way of gently pointing me in the most fruitful direction. John’s way of thinking has been influential on my own in ways I am continually made aware of, and no doubt will continue to be. I had been meaning to get in touch for months to catch up, and that is my loss. My heart goes out to everyone who will feel his loss, most particularly his family and close friends.

  24. John agreed to become a Trustee of the Halton Lune Trust in 2010, when the Community funded hydro project was still on the drawing board, and with the objective of overseeing distribution of funds to support the local community with profits derived by producing green electricity from the flow of the river Lune. As a true “independent”, John was an ideal Trustee and it is indeed a great pity that he has not been able to partake in evaluating requests for utilisation of those funds, which have just become available to assist all ages achieve their objectives. His last email to me 17th March, was typically brief and to the point.

  25. I have just been reading all the wonderful tributes to John, many of which reflect with amazing poignancy both Wendy’s and my emotions and memories.

    We first met John in 1974 when I gave up a job teaching in Grimsby and moved to Lancaster to take another undergraduate degree, this time in sociology. The choice was between Durham, York and Lancaster, but I had just read ‘Power In Britain’ edited by John Urry and John Wakeford – a recommended Open University text for an OU degree I was doing at the time – and that tipped the balance. John interviewed me and was at the same time very friendly and extremely interested in my unusual application. Within weeks my decision had been vindicated and I spent the next two years being taken from a very ordinary student to one that was inspired both by the subject and John’s intellect.

    John had a great sense of locality and we enjoyed trips to places like Sunderland Point with our young families. I soon became aware of his wide range of interests. I remember our fascination in railways and in particular a day out on the colliery lines of the north east with the late Chris Otley. We also shared an enjoyment of music – his choice of a tasty funk band that played at 100 years of Lash and Urry (a joint 50th birthday party) was memorable.

    John was inspirational in my post graduate work at the Open University and joined Roger Dale and myself in Portugal while we were researching the impact of the socialist revolution on education. Many happy evenings were spent barbecuing sardines, drinking vino verde and discussing the relevance of Braverman to our studies!

    John was a tremendous support to me in my days lecturing in the sociology of education in Liverpool. When we returned to our home town of Cleethorpes in North East Lincolnshire, John came to visit several times and over fish and chips and a beer (could this have been the beginning of his research into food, drink and tourism?!) we ruminated on the similarities between Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Immingham and Morecambe, Heysham and Lancaster and how this could provide an interesting research tool.

    When we started North East Lincolnshire’s local television service, Channel 7, John was influential in helping me develop a radical new model which has gone on to be the foundation of the country’s local television network. It was with great excitement that the two of us, together with Nick Abercrombie, worked on a business plan for local television in the Lancaster area (Bay TV) based at the University with major contributions from each academic department. Sadly, with the demise of the local cable company, this was not to be.

    If ever the concept ‘significant other’ had any real meaning, then Professor John Urry can be said for all of us to exemplify it to perfection.

    So many happy memories.

    Au revoir Big Man

  26. I knew John first as an undergraduate at Lancaster in 1972 shortly after he was appointed as a lecturer in the Sociology Department. His teaching of Sociological Theory stimulated me to develop a life-long fascination with social theory. At this point a theoretical realist, John was beginning an innovative journey in social theory that was to challenge and change thinking in many fields. Later I knew John as a colleague and friend at Lancaster for many years and always valued his personal support and enormous contribution to the discipline. I will remember his humour, warmth and the apparent ease of his powerful sociological imagination. It is hard to believe he has gone. He will be hugely missed by colleagues and friends and in the discipline but his intellectual legacy will continue far into the future.

  27. While the news of John’s passing has now had many days to sink in, I still find myself somewhat speechless. Like many others, I share memories of John’s generosity and care, his passion for pursuing new ideas and encouraging others to join him. He was the kind of person who practiced a model of intellectual life that was a pleasure to come into contact with and a model worth perpetuating – one that unquestioningly valued the importance of collegiality, valued ideas far above apparent hierarchies, and recognized that kindness and support can and should be regularly fostered. It seems only fitting that the last two emails I received from John were (characteristically) brief notes of congratulations and encouragement for things that he had already previously expressed support – a recent special issue of Mobilities that James Faulconbridge and I co-edited and a new beginning in my personal life. While I’m sorry that my time of learning from John has come to an end, I look forward to cultivating spaces for enthusiasm and encouragement in his memory.

  28. It is hard to describe the shock and sadness when I heard the news. He was a warm, kind, and knowledgeable supervisor. I was so lucky to be supervised by John over the past few years.

    The 1st edition of The Tourist Gaze inspired me so much when I was doing my Master’s degree. He was one of my main reasons for doing my PhD in Lancaster University, and for wanting to become a researcher. I met John in person in October 2010 when I first arrived at Lancaster. John opened my mind and helped me see the world in interesting ways. He was so open to different approaches, curious about lots of things, and supportive of his students. John had always encouraged me a lot and we had lots of laughs in our meetings.

    I will miss him a lot. His works will keep influencing the world, and he will always be remembered as a generous and humourous man.

  29. My last event with John was the 2015 Grand Finale of the Lancaster Postgraduate Intellectual Party, a summer conference by and for students at Lancaster and beyond, organised every year in the Sociology Department. Elizabeth Shove was in her usual role as impresario, and sent out a call for volunteers for this final session, which we all know by now usually involves a small ritual of mild humiliation, as well as celebration, of the department’s academic staff. As was typical of John, his seniority and gravitas as a scholar notwithstanding, he enthusiastically volunteered. Our assignment was to invent a creative way of representing a recent article or book of our own, aimed at convincing the attending students that it should be their pick for the next must-read. John’s entry was built around his recent book Offshoring, rendered through the brilliant animated abstract of the book created by MorphStudio, and more specifically by the hand of John’s son Tom. Despite stiff competition in the form of an abstract performed as a beat poem by our colleague Allison Hui, John easily won the student’s choice. John’s presence in the event evidenced his inimitable mix of sweet good humour and irrepressible competitiveness. More substantively, the winning text exemplifies John’s gift of recognising emerging sociological transformations, and articulating the connective tissues that form them up across a broad and diverse body of global developments. This was his gift both in the ephemeral sense of his special ability, and also in the lasting sense of what he gave to us, as his colleagues and students.

  30. My last interaction with John, a few days before he died, was a typically business-like email exchange about keys and building access during the vacation, delivered on John’s part in his usual style – concise and abbreviated to a point just this side of unintelligibility. As if he had too many valuable tasks to fit into too short a life…
    But, brief as it was, his email continued with a line cheering me for taking a longer Easter holiday. This too was typical – he never forgot to care or to show that he cared. In meetings his voice was the sanest and wisest, and he always tempered his gentle cynicism toward bureaucracy with wily suggestions of how to cut through it. I will miss him a lot.

  31. John was such a genuinely lovely person – an intellectual giant who inspired but never intimidated. His pursuit of making the world a better place is a tradition many of us will be doing our best to live up to. I feel very privileged to have known him, although for too short a time.

  32. I still find it hard to believe that we will not see John again. I was so shocked to hear the sad news of his so untimely and unexpected passing after the end of a joint supervision he was not able to join. I have been John’s researcher for the last 3,5 years. I have felt really privileged and proud to have been given the opportunity to work with such a distinguished and influential scholar. I have always been admiring his endless energy and youthfulness. I thought he would always be with us. And, he will be with us (and after us) and ‘move’ us through his work and ideas. Thank you John. Rest in Peace.

  33. I can’t believe how much I miss you already. You were immense and so utterly generous with your thoughts and time. I hope we can continue to do justice to your work in the future.

  34. I am very sorry to hear the news that John Urry has suddenly passed away. He had a long connection with Cardiff University, and colleagues who knew him in the School of Social Sciences here will be shocked and saddened. He examined my PhD on heritage back in 1997 and remained a source of support for my career and my work thereafter, kindly agreeing to come down to Cardiff only last year to examine, in turn, my own PhD student, Hannah. He struck me as a vigorous, prolific, positive, inspiring person and it is hard to believe that he is gone. What he leaves behind, however, is a huge legacy of ideas and interventions in sociology that will feed the discipline for years to come.

  35. Before I moved to the Sociology department I was somewhat terrified of John. I found out we were to be on the same corridor at work! Such an intellectual giant! Yikes!

    Then I bumped into him and we chatted and I realised he was in no way intimidating, but actually a genuinely nice person. The last time we chatted was after a recent event about his forthcoming book about ‘the future’.

    I’m sad he is gone x

  36. I share with so many others on these pages recollections of John as a congenial and supportive colleague. I will also want to remember his lifelong and impressive contribution, intellectual and administrative, to the development of sociology in Britain. However, my fondest memories are of him as a trusty companion and a good friend.

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