Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sir Peter Hall (1932-2014)

Saddened this morning to hear of the death of my friend and mentor Sir Peter Hall (1932-2014). He was Chair of the Department of Geography at the University of Reading when I applied for a job in 1978. I was also invited to an interview at Exeter University scheduled for the same day. I called him up and told him of my dilemma. He said, "Leave it to me".  He arranged matters so that I was interviewed early in the morning at Reading and then drove me to the railway station so that I could catch a train to Exeter.  He drove at break neck speed all the time discussing urban planning issues. It was so typically Peter. A mixture of fast driving, intellectual discussion and generosity. He was a world famous academic and I was a young postdoc and yet for Peter, ideas rather than social status or position in the academic hierarchy was what really mattered.

I joined the faculty at Reading and came to know and admire him. I met him and Magda, his wife, over the years and in different places. I visited them in London and stayed with them when they lived in Berkeley and he visited me when I was in Canberra and Syracuse. He retained his boyish enthusiasm, good cheer and personal warmth for me over three decades.

There are now lots of obituary notices that tell of his work and contributions. My comments here are about the man.  I never met anyone who was so genuinely engaged in the urban condition. He was naive in the best sense of the word; always curious about ideas, ready to discuss them at anytime and with anyone. Widely and rightly praised and honored  he did not have a scintilla of pretension. In the academic world where ego is rampant,  often despite the actual accomplishments, Peter was a wonderful mixture of greatly talented and self deprecating. He used his influence and gave up his time to help numerous young scholars. He was a source of positive power and encouraging energy that radiated out over the years and across the world.

I last met him at conference organized in London in 2012 to celebrate his work. A dinner was arranged at the Royal Society. I was invited to write about one of his books. You can read it here. He was at 80 years of age still writing incisively  and thinking clearly about cities with the energy and passion of a young man. Age had not dimmed his mind or lessened his enthusiasm.  I am so glad I got one last chance to speak with him. I will miss him.