Reader Mary Philo, from Wandsworth, south London, has submitted the following obituary for her husband, a man she describes as a “scholar, Polymath and committed European”.
Simon Edwards, who has died aged 73, did much to enrich the opportunities to study abroad for students at the University of Roehampton where he taught English Literature for 38 years and for their counterparts from many other EU countries. For his family, friends, students and colleagues the loss of his enormous breadth of knowledge and far-reaching international teaching experience is compounded by the fact that the opportunities under the EU Erasmus scheme will not be available to future UK students.
In February of this year he was awarded an honorary professorship by the University of Shkoder, Albania, where every spring he taught a small cohort of students. (Such was his love for what to him was a utopian place of learning, scholarship, friendship and hospitality that he rather wistfully imagined himself retiring there, teaching occasionally and keeping chickens.) His introduction to Shkoder was via his great friend and colleague Prof Roberta Maierhofer from the University of Graz, Austria.
She was recruiting professors in English and American Studies to teach at the University of Shkoder and Simon was recommended because of his extensive experience with international programmes and exchanges. In her touching memorial to him she writes: “It sometimes seemed as if Simon had lectured everywhere in the world. He knew European universities very well, and spent time in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden but also in the USA and Japan. (We) shared a certain view of the world: recognising absurdities in institutional settings but believing in the power of literature and art in terms of expressing all the ambivalences of human existence.”
Another good friend and colleague, Dr Christoph Houswitschka from the University of Bamberg writes: “As a citizen of the world and a cosmopolitan scholar, Simon contributed his very unique English perspective with a profoundly European mind. He was particularly interested in the changes in countries that used to belong to what was called ‘Eastern Europe’, a misnomer of the Cold War years. Simon took a genuine interest in their post-war socialist past as much as their painful struggles to build free and democratic societies. Simon had erudition and wit to juggle the sensitivities of very different Europeans… continuing the great work of thousands of British people who had contributed so much in rebuilding war-torn Central Europe after the war. This spirit lived on in his commitment to teaching all over Europe and especially in the former East.”
Simon was truly egalitarian, curious and interested in the lives of others whatever their profession, never patronising or believing himself to be in any way superior. He was a brilliant cook and every meal at his
table was an adventure, every opinion on his favourite subjects – football, opera, literature, art, politics, history – spoken with the energy and enthusiasm of a young man. His enlightenment values, his humanity and his uniquely eclectic scholarship will be sorely missed.