Oct 18 2021

In memory of Professor George Philip (1951- 2021)

The Department of Government is deeply saddened by the death, on 13 October, of George Philip, Emeritus Professor of Comparative and Latin American Politics at the LSE.  Born in London in 1951, George Philip received his doctorate from Oxford University and joined the Department of Government in 1976. In a distinguished academic career that spanned over 40 years, he became one of the leading Latin Americanists of his generation.

George Philip’s academic writings addressed key issues of Latin American politics and political economy.  His early works focussed on oil and politics in Latin America (Oil and Politics in Latin America: Nationalist Movements and State Companies), a topic on which he wrote extensively throughout his career. But his work was not defined by narrow specialisms (he defined himself as fox rather than a hedgehog in Isaiah Berlin’s terms). He covered, among others, questions about military power (The Military in South American Politics) the condition of democracy in the region (Democracy in Latin America: Surviving Conflict and Crisis?) and the region’s turn to the left in the early 21st Century (The Triumph of Politics. The Return of the Left in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador). George Philip had a special interest in Mexico, a country in which he had an extensive network of academic and political contacts and from where many of his doctoral students came from. His 1992 book, The Presidency in Mexican Politics, became one the most authoritative works on Mexico’s political institutions of the time.

George Philip introduced several generations of both undergraduate and postgraduate students to the politics of Latin America. He had the talent to make the complex politics of the region understandable and compelling for an audience that may have no previous knowledge of it.  His graduate seminars often adjourned to one of the LSE pubs, where discussions about politics continued and mixed with debates about culture and, of course, his beloved football.  He tutored a large number of PhD students, many of whom went to have important positions in public life in their home countries and made a point of visiting him when back in London.  He was a generous mentor for both postgraduate students and junior colleagues.  Behind the façade of an Oxford-educated English academic, he had a great sense of humour and was easily approachable.

George Philip occupied positions of responsibility in the Department and in the School. He was Convenor (Head of Department) between 2004 and 2007. At School-level he served as Vice Chancellor (Academic) and in several School committees.  Those who worked with him knew his quality. George Philip will be remembered as a top academic, a kind and decent man a generous mentor, and a proud Professor in the Department. He is survived by his wife, Carol.

Contribution by Professor Francisco Panizza 
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12 Responses to In memory of Professor George Philip (1951- 2021)

  1. William Eatock says:

    I didn’t personally know Professor George Philips, but I was always interested in his career. Professor Philips’ knowledge of Latin American politics was second to none, and he became a leading light on the subject. 

    I’m sorry to hear of his passing and would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the professor’s family and all those who knew him on an intellectual and personal level. 

  2. So many of us in the Government Department have fond memories of George! I remember him most from his time as Convenor (Head of Department). One anecdote that I have is that during George’s time as Convenor, I managed to acquire a bad break in my foot, which meant that I could not walk well. George, bless him, arranged for the Department to help some with my added expenses in having to take a taxi into LSE for weeks on end (since I kept losing my crutches down the gap when getting onto trains). That simple kindness is something that has stuck with me for all these years. Yes, he was a terrific scholar and great citizen to the School, but to me, he was also a tremendously kind man.

  3. Paul Kelly says:

    When George stepped down as HoD he did not take the easy path and sabbatical but took on the role of Vice Chair of the Appointments Committee. This was at a time before there was the Pro-Director Faculty Affairs role. The VCAC convened the Professoriate on all matters of academic standards and worked with the Director Howard Davies on Chairing the Promotions Committee – yes in those days the Director chaired the Promotions Committee. The role was an important bridge between senior faculty as the guardians of academic standards and the School Management. As a long serving school Committee member George was well placed in this role and was widely trusted across the School. As a former HoD he was well placed to represent the School on many committees. Indeed I came to know him best through committee service. This is an unglamorous and overlooked aspect of academic careers but in many ways the care and promotion of institutions such as departments and the LSE as a single faculty is a more important contribution than many others as it contributes to the success of all of us. George was LSE first and foremost.

  4. Jill Stuart says:

    I joined the Department in 2003 because of George Philip. I was a PhD student and was hired as a part-time administrative assistant (PSS) to support George as he took over from Chai as Head of Department. He was surprisingly stubborn at using my help as he was very independent and wanted to do most of his own admin. However we developed a mutual trust and I would help him with promotions, the RSS and my favourite: organising our annual Cumberland Lodge conference.

    It was a running joke that, over his three years as Head of Department, George never remembered what two days of the week I worked and would amble in to K105 on my day off and ask if I was in… so of course we teased him for being the stereotype of a preoccupied professor. He amiably took our jokes on the chin.

    I also remember the time George and Carole had a lost racing pigeon show up at their house. They were so sweet and concerned about helping the bird be returned to its coop. Given that I know a lot about pigeons, that was one of the stranger–but more rewarding–tasks that I was able to help George with as his assistant!

    I saw the same compassion from George when I was nearly deported from the UK in 2010. George wrote a letter of support for me to the Home Office and I was incredibly touched by how concerned and downright frustrated he was on my behalf. At that point I really felt that we were not just colleagues but also friends.

    Rest in peace, George. You will be missed.

  5. Julio A. Gonzalez says:

    I had the privilege of having George Philip as my professor in 3 different stages of my academic life: First, as an undergraduate visiting student when I spent a year and a half at the LSE. Second, as a masters student when I followed his program on politics of development. Third, as a PhD student when he acted as one of my PhD supervisors.

    As a supervisor, he would know when you needed to have your ears pulled, or when you needed a bit of praise for the work you were doing. He would not shy away from a tough conversation with other academics who disagreed with him, or from a shot of tequila. He was an extraordinary scholar: I remember him in a conference, standing and speaking for 30 minutes nonstop, without any notes, addressing the crowd about politics with that privileged mind of his. But he was even a better person: The previous day before my PhD examination (VIVA), he requested a meeting with me at school. I thought he wanted to ask some academic questions in preparation for the VIVA; instead, he took me to the pub, bought me a beer, and asked me if I was okay. He wanted to make sure I was not nervous for the exam.

    When George Philip would come to Mexico for a visit, it was as if an old relative arrived. Old and new students of his would gather around him to ask his opinion about a particular issue, ask for a favor, or discuss the last political gossip. I never saw him happier than when he was surrounded by his students.

    Many Latin American scholars, politicians, and policy-makers who were his students owe much to him, to the education and guidance that he provided. He is dearly missed, and will always be remembered.

  6. Martin Lodge says:

    My enduring memory of George is sitting together on an open-air double decker sightseeing bus in Mexico City in 2013. Not only did we sit through hours of high pollution gridlock, because of a demonstration, the ‘tour’ came to an abrupt end and we were were left to our own devices to find our way back to the hotel (that was in lockdown). George showed his in-depth knowledge of Mexico City at that point, steeled also by his experiences as head of the Government Department. This was followed by an early Sunday morning spent watching Fulham lose and his beloved Spurs win.

  7. Chai ( Dominic) Lieven. says:

    Sitting watching Mount Fuji from my home in rural Japan the wonderful memories of George come flooding into my mind. We were almost the same age and joined the department at almost the same time. We were always friends and became all the closer after we had both been convenors of the department – never an easy job. That shared experience made me appreciate all the more George’s wry sense of humour, his kindness, patience and decency. As students of Latin America and Russia we shared a certain insight into comparative political nastiness but also into its historical and cultural origins. My thoughts are with Carol, Francisco, Cheryl, Jill and all George’s (and my) friends and colleagues in the department.

  8. Patrick Dunleavy says:

    I was lucky enough to go to Nuffield College at the same time as George, and then to work alongside him in the Government Department for most of my career. During much of that time George held up the Latin American aspect of research single-handedly in the Department, with great aplomb, producing a sequence of well researched books and attracting some very distinguished PhD students, who have great memories of his characteristically assured supervision style. He will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his wife Carol at this awful time.

  9. Gil Shidlo says:

    George Philip was my PhD Supervisor and played an important role in the process from choosing a research project , helping during my field research in Brazil and throughout the writing. We kept in touch over the years and on my occasional visits to England I visited him at the LSE. George was knowledgeable in many fields apart from politics – he was involved in the LSE expansion purchasing new buildings ; knowledgeable about the oil industry and Latin American economy and business. We had great discussions on these topics at a later stage when I was no longer a student but also a friend and colleague.
    In the last few years I visited George and Carol at their lovely home in Oxford various times. Carol was a lovely hostess .
    Like many in the Government Department I have fond memories of George .

  10. Chun Lin says:

    In my memories of George, with respect and admiration, he was always a English gentleman. I vividly remember how he politely offered to co-teach a MSc course on development in China and Mexico long time ago. We designed the course together and had for quite a few years enjoyed a large and enthusiastic class, having fun comparing CCP and PRI and all that followed, until some school authority considered it awkward to do such comparisons. Our students were enormously curious and appreciative, largely due to George’s deep knowledge, insight and open-mindedness. He once asked me to explain every detail of industrialization in new China depending on the so-called price scissors to achieve an internal, ‘socialist primitive accumulation’, and commented that such policies would never be acceptable in a democracy. This prompted some unusually fruitful class discussions against a specific background of 20th century national and regional transformations in the two continents. I’m sad that George is gone. I cherish his keen interest in the global south and our shared passion for the study of the bullied and exploited ‘third world’ (even if China and Mexico are somewhat outliers and wherever they might be respectively positioned today). He was a truly inspiring teacher and mentor.

  11. Colin Lewis says:

    A productive scholar – George acquired a reputation for producing ‘big books’, in every sense, and stalwart servant of the School. A hardworking colleague and friend who will be remembered in the UK and elsewhere, notably in Latin America where his research .had a massive impact.

  12. Gareth Jones says:

    I was very sad to learn of George’s death. He was a determined and occasionally stubborn advocate for the study of and engagement with Latin America, a role that won him many friends and admirers among faculty, students and the alumni community. Quiet and unassuming his former students adored him for his sharp mind and the quiet way he continued to support them, students and alumni associations, pushing to raise the profile of the numerous ‘Weeks’ organised by student societies on campus. A few years after joining LSE I attended a conference hosted in Mexico City by one of the country’s most prestigious universities, to find that nearly everyone in a packed auditorium either was, had been or hoped to be a student of George’s. His passing is an enormous loss at a time when universities in the UK need to engage constructively with institutions in the region.

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