Peter Mair

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.

17 thoughts on “Peter Mair

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my own mother a few weeks ago very suddenly after a stroke. I had just had her and my Dad to visit my home – the first time we’d managed it for over two years! I cannot put into words how glad I am that we had that tme together, without realising at the time how special it would. I can close my eyes and hear and see in my mind’s eye as clear as day her laughing on the wonderful sunny Summer’s evening we spent before they flew home again.

    So take comfort from the lovely evening you spent with your friend at Glenties and memories of your friendship as life can change so quickly in a heartbeat.

  2. Physicists ask each other “What’s your Dirac number?” Scholars of comparative party politics should ask each other “What’s your Mair number?” My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

  3. I never had the opportunity to meet the man, only to learn from his considerable scholarship. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. His passing is a great loss to us all. Rest in peace, Prof. Mair.

  4. As a student Political Science at the university of Leiden in the nineties I have attended his workshops on Comparative Politics and Government. A warm personality and a expert on the European field of Politics. My condolonces to his family, friends and colleagues

  5. David,

    Condolences on the death of your friend and mentor. All I know about Prof. Mair was through his writings and yes, he was truly great. From your account of him, it’s clear you feel very sad right now but in later days you will remember him with gladness in your heart and a smile.

  6. I’m extremely sad about Peter’s tragic death, which came as a shock and much too early. My thoughts are with his family.

    David, I couldn’t agree more with what you say about his truly fine personality and his outstanding and influential contributions to comparative politics and research on political parties in particular. I’ll miss his advice and will remember him as a brilliant teacher, supervisor and, above all, the kind person he was.

  7. What a devastating loss – to his family, friends and political science. He was one of the most charming and brightest political scientists of his generation, with an outstanding impact on the way that we all understand party politics. I hope that we can find a suitable way to commemorate his loss and memorialize his name within the profession.

  8. Much of Peter Mair’s more recent work consisted of analysing how European democracy was being hollowed out with the people disconnected from an increasingly lordly and introspective political class. I chatted to Peter at the 2010 MacGill summer school and was able to see that this humane, unstuffy and wise academic was the every antithesis of these tendencies. What a shame that his strong democratic instincts and comparative knowledge will no longer be available, especially as the European union hurtles down the road towards economic post-democracy.

  9. Truly charming and captivating individual. We had dinner with him in Glenties the following evening to David, and I so enjoyed his take on current Ireland and the way forward.

    A true loss to his family and friends, and the field of politics.

  10. I have known Peter Mair for many years and we keep in touch on areas of common interest. My own filed of industrial relations interfaces politics, and some of my work on the politics of industrial relations in Ireland was the basis of recent communication between us. He hosted a visit I made to the EUI in 2008 and was, as in the past, generous, helpful and encouraging. Apart from being a justly celebrated scholar of comparative politics, his work on the Irish politics was, I believe, of the highest calibre. To his family, colleagues and many friends I offer my most sincrere sympathies on the loss of this great scholar and fine man.

    Bill Roche
    School of Business
    University College Dublin

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