Post by David Farrell (August 16 2011)
Today I received the awful news that my mentor, colleague and friend, Professor Peter Mair had passed away while on one of his regular family holidays in Ireland. He will be known to many readers of this blog for his writings and speeches on Irish politics (for a recent posting, see here). A good example was his pin-dropping speech at this year’s MacGill Summer School – a perfectly pitched overview of what’s wrong with our political culture and what should change (he was the third speaker in this stream; see also here).
What may not be so well known to Irish readers of this blog is just how significant an academic figure Peter Mair was internationally. This is a case where the cliché really fits: he was one of the true greats of European political science. The professorship he held at the European University Institute (EUI) – the Chair of Comparative Politics and Government – is viewed as the most prestigious in political science in Europe, at one of the top institutes of political science in the world. The job he left to take that was head of one of the other leading political science departments in Europe – at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.
Peter’s international reputation was well deserved. He was, without doubt, the leading scholar on the study of political parties and representation, and one of the leading lights in the field of comparative politics (for a list of some of his work, see here). It would be impossible to publish work in this area without citing his name. He was, quite simply, one of the leading political scientists in Europe. Period.
He was also one of the nicest people in the profession: you only had to experience the buzz in a room when he walked in to see that. Everyone wanted a bit of his time, from the most junior to the most senior: Peter was always surrounded – a senior figure in reputation even before he was actually such a senior figure in age.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent an evening with Peter, at the Highlands Hotel bar in Glenties. Over the course of our conversation I reminded him about his party pieces, singing songs late into the night at our student parties – by all accounts a practice that continued.
This was the most human of people, the most brilliant of minds and the most prolific of scholars. He will be sorely missed.