Nov 2 2017

Emeritus Professor Robert Estall

Professor Robert Estall

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Professor Robert Estall, Professor of Geography at LSE until 1989, and an Emeritus Professor thereafter. He was also an undergraduate student at LSE from 1952-55 and completed his PhD here in 1964.

I was extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Emeritus Professor Robert Estall. He was a distinguished geographer, yet always modest.  As a person, he was full of kindness, character and integrity, and I will remember him fondly.

Our paths crossed more than once. Together with the late Professor Emrys Jones he interviewed me for the undergraduate degree in Geography in 1976 when I was 17 years old. The interview was so relaxed and enjoyable that I emerged feeling that I was walking on air! I was subsequently given a conditional offer of two Es at A level – an indication that Profs Estall and Jones had warmed to me, as much as I had to them! I was sorely tempted to take the LSE place but under pressure of parents and teachers, I opted instead to read my undergraduate programme at King’s College Cambridge. However, I was pulled back to LSE, partly because of my recollection of that initial encounter, as well as LSE’s rapidly-emerging distinction as a place to do groundbreaking research in geography in a context of social science interdisciplinarity.  

So, I returned to LSE in 1988 as a young lecturer (what would now be ‘assistant professor’),  following a PhD at UCL, a post-doctoral year in Mexico funded by a Leverhulme Trust Study Abroad Studentship, and and 18 months as a lecturer in Geography and Latin American Studies at Liverpool.  

As soon as I had been appointed, Professor Estall, together with Professor Bob Bennett, then Head of Department, reached out to ask if I could contribute to the book they were editing on Global Change and Challenge: Geography for the 1990s, which was eventually published by Routledge in 1991, which was to showcase the research of a small contingent of LSE geographers at the time. In the end, my over-long first chapter draft ended up becoming two chapters, which was a real bonus for someone with a limited emerging publication track record! Prof Estall was a patient and judicious editor, meeting with me to discuss and finesse the contributions, and being unfailingly encouraging about my efforts.

I was sorry when he retired officially in 1989, but enjoyed seeing him on several occasions subsequently. He always showed such interest in young scholars, and his passing, like that of the late Professors Michael Wise and Derek Diamond, leaves me feeling bereft of a generation of senior academics who worked well into their retirement to support the Department and the discipline of Geography more widely.  He is firmly locked into my treasure trove of professional and personal memories, and my thoughts go out to the family and friends he has left behind.


Professor Sylvia Chant FRSA FAcSS

Professor of Development Geography

Director, MSc Urbanisation and Development


If you would like to post a tribute to Professor Estall; leave your condolences or share any memories you have of him please comment on this post.

This entry was posted in Department of Geography & Environment, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Emeritus Professor Robert Estall

  1. Anyone who knew Rob will instantly recognise Sylvia’s vivid portrayal. In the mind’s eye he is always smiling, always friendly, always ready to pitch in. I first met him when, as a fairly recent hire, I became a member of the Admissions Committee which Rob chaired. He made me feel very welcome and treated me as though my views mattered.

    The ripple effects of that attitude were much wider. Alongside colleagues in the Geography Department like Michael Wise, Alan Day in Economics and, slightly later, Ralf Dahrendorf, Rob was one of the people who helped to make the Senior Common Room less hierarchical – a place where young lecturers could trade ideas with Readers and Professors in a genuinely relaxed way. As a beneficiary, I look back with gratitude to and affection for the senior colleagues who made that happen.

    The view that Rob had a significant role in establishing a less hierarchical collegial atmosphere in the School would perhaps have surprised him, but not those who knew him. There was always serious purpose – but for many, it will be the smile that will linger in memory.

    Nicholas Barr FRSA
    Professor of Public Economics
    European Institute

  2. Bob Bennett says:

    Bob Estall was a great colleague and one of the great citizens of LSE. Sylvia Chant’s tribute captures his personality very well. He also welcomed me to LSE when I was appointed on Emrys Jones’ retirement 1985. As he was to Sylvia, he was also to me a warm and welcoming colleague, and helped greatly in guiding me around the labyrinthine structures of LSE, both its built form and its administration. In may ways he was with Derek Diamond one of the most crucial supports in my early days there.

    On my arrival it was of some amazement to me that someone who had achieved such impact in the field of economic geography had not at that time received promotion to a chair. It was one of my aims when I became convenor of the Department that he and others that had not received as much recognition as they deserved should be better recognised. He was the first individual I was able to support for promotion to chair and the fact that this was achieved at first proposal with such enthusiasm by everyone around LSE at the time is a tribute to the high universal regard in which he was held. Long overdue, but wonderful that justice was done, albeit only just before his retirement.

    Bob was also a tremendous teacher. In the days before formal assessments of teaching, Convenors had to get some grasp of their colleagues performance by indirect routes. This was not difficult for Bob, the students raved about him. His teaching, which I latterly shared in one course, was always well prepared and engaging. He had a rather dry humour, but jovial manner that they much appreciated. The students knew what was required and he devoted great effort to following up and supporting them. When I shared teaching with him he was easy to work with and welcomed integration of new material. Perhaps that summed him up more than anything: an extremely warm, welcoming and supportive colleague and teacher.

    The same went for our collaboration on the ‘LSE Geography Department book’, as we saw it, and to which Sylvia refers. This was aimed at raising the profile of the Department in schools and among undergraduates in other universities. It was hoped that this would help to attract better student applications from undergraduates, and from the best aspiring PhD students. This had modest success and was part of a strategy to give the Department a greater profile. Bob needed no convincing, he was immediately engaged in this book and saw the potential benefits, threw himself into his chapters and into helping the co-editing of the whole. His efforts in many ways embody his teaching, and in retrospect it is wonderful that this achieved the by-product of preserving something of his teaching expertise in his own chapters.

    Very sad to hear of his passing, but his memory remains with all those who knew him; and the impact of his teaching and writing lives on in his many students’ experiences and their careers. An embodiment of the best of LSE of that time!

    Bob Bennett
    Professor Emeritus,
    University of Cambridge

  3. Joanna Eaton says:

    Thank you Sylvia, Nicholas and Bob. These tributes are very valuable to us as a family and will be printed out and put in our book of memories. Dr Chris Board came to the funeral and it was good to see him and to connect with this, very important part of his life – LSE.
    Best wishes to you all, Joanna Eaton (Estall)

  4. James Guest says:

    I was sad to hear of Professor Estall’s passing. He was my personal tutor and invariably kind – the only exception being his disappointment at seeing me in the Senior Common Room during an occupation. The explanation that like him we were just there, as he was, because we were curious didn’t seem to satisfy him.

    This was another indication of his love of the LSE and its traditions. I was fortunate enough to have a long conversation with him at a reunion event in 2007. As well as a fascinating conversation about religion. science and even geography he expressed his pleasure at being made professor at LSE. By implication meaning rather than being made professor at some lesser institution.

    Professor Estall was a marvellous lecturer; clear and helpful to students. His insight and ability to deal with comments made for a fascinating intellectual experience. [I still use some of his jokes in my classes.]

    I think the earlier comments are very accurate. I always remember him smiling, because he was always smiling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *