Eulogy for Emeritus Professor Paul Wilkinson

Friday 19 August 2011

The following tribute to Professor Paul Wilkinson, who died on August 11th 2011, was given at his funeral at Crail Parish Church today by Professor Ali Watson, School of International Relations.

Paul Wilkinson was many things: a scholar of great distinction; the author of numerous books and articles; a broadcaster; a teacher and mentor to many here today and across the world; a loved and valued friend and colleague; and, of course, a man devoted to his family.

I first met Paul in 1984 when I started as an undergraduate at Aberdeen University where Paul had become their first Chair in International Relations 5 years previously. From that time on I was lucky, as so many others were, to benefit from the full range of Paul’s dedication to supporting younger scholars and colleagues, whether from an opportunity granted, an encouragement given, an argument heard, or a kind word spoken. Such dedication in turn inspired tremendous loyalty, as the numerous tributes and reflections that have been heard over the last week testify.

Throughout his career Paul’s work was pioneering in so many ways: he laid the foundations for the study of terrorism as an academic discipline; and provided the first theoretical understanding of it in Political Terrorism, published in 1974, and in Terrorism and the Liberal State, published in 1976; he led the study of International Relations in Scotland, first in Aberdeen, but then in St Andrews where he arrived in 1989 to occupy the first Chair in International Relations in a department that has grown from an initial staff of 4 to its present 45, and from an annual undergraduate student intake of 100 to the 500 students who now arrive annually to undertake a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Paul was a central element in this growth. Many students have been attracted to study International Relations, as I was myself, by the sight of Paul’s calm demeanour – and occasional cream suit – giving us his insight into why terrorist atrocities have taken place, and counselling upon the best responses to them. In turn many of those same students were inspired by Paul to work in the security field and to follow in his footsteps in careers specialising in the study of terrorist phenomena, ensuring that Paul’s legacy continues for future generations. He co-founded (with his friend and colleague, Bruce Hoffman) the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, the first of its kind at the time, and now one of the leading research institutes for the study of terrorism in the world; and he also pioneered distance learning in this area with the establishment of a range of undergraduate and postgraduate e-learning degrees at St Andrews in 2006.

This depth of expertise of course meant that his counsel was sought, and continued to be, by other academics, and by policymakers and think tanks around the world such that the significance of Paul’s work can be seen in a very concrete way. He advised the British Department of Transport in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, and in 1996 accepted an invitation to serve as Advisor to Lord Lloyd of Berwick in his Inquiry into Legislation Against Terrorism. The resulting report was part of the process that led to the Labour Government’s Terrorism Act of 2000. He provided expert testimony to numerous official enquiries, legislative committees and government commissions. He travelled all round the world speaking at conferences and seminars, including a seminar he gave with the Dalai Lama that he was particularly delighted with – and, of course, he contributed to a whole range of electronic and print media across the globe always providing the calm reassurance and reasoned arguments necessary to try to understand both the problems of terrorism and counter-terrorism generally and of aviation terrorism and security in particular. Such distinguished public service led to the award of a CBE in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List.

But to list Paul’s academic achievements is to cover only a small portion of who Paul was. He was brave – his dedication to his field of study coming not only from his desire to educate and understand, but from his fundamental belief, often expressed, in the primacy of human rights and the maintenance of the rule of law – that terror in all its forms should not be tolerated in any society. He was tremendously compassionate, and so very kind. He was funny – I’ll always remember him recounting, with a sometimes wheezy laugh, stories of the absurdities of life in general, and academic life in particular. He was optimistic – something that characterised his approach to others and, indeed, to the potential solutions that he gave to the problems that the world faces. He was enormously proud of his students, and they of him. He gave time to people, and was interested in you whatever you were doing – when I was a student at Aberdeen with Paul I went to his office one day with a friend of mine to drop some work off. The friend I was with wasn’t a student of Paul’s, wasn’t at the same university, and certainly wasn’t studying IR – instead he was training to be a quantity surveyor. Rather than make him wait in the corridor, Paul asked my friend to come in too, and preceded to talk to him for about 20 minutes – asking him about his course, finding out what he liked and disliked about it, providing anecdotes about quantity surveying – how I don’t know – and just generally encouraging him in the path he was taking. My friend was – I can only say – overwhelmed that someone so obviously busy, and eminent, could take the time to be so encouraging and interested in a complete stranger.

This genuine interest that Paul had in people was something that ran through all of his interactions with others – whether the discussion was research related or an update on how your family was doing – and is something that no doubt inspired the tremendous loyalty and affection that people had for him, and why he will be missed so much. He was a true gentleman, and a very gentle man. Earlier this week a colleague told me that since hearing of Paul’s death she had not been able to get the poem Epitaph on William Muir, by Robert Burns, out of her head and when she sent me the lines I could see why. So given Paul’s love of poetry I thought it might be nice to end with this:

AN HONEST man here lies at rest As e’er God with his image blest;
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informed:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

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