Remembering Robert Elgie – Scholar, Colleague, Friend

Robert Elgie (1965-2019)

Robert Elgie, our dear friend, colleague, supporter, and founder of the Presidential Power blog, passed away on July 14, 2019. We bid Robert farewell in this memorial post, with testimonials from current and former contributors.

“Sometimes the waiting can seem endless. But be patient and in time everything will turn out right”. Robert’s last post on his Half-Life Music blog is as inspiring in its simplicity as every other piece he ever wrote. His contribution to comparative politics scholarship is enormous, but it was his gift of clear, simple writing that always stood out to me. Even in the quickest of blog posts, Robert was able to pack a breakthrough idea in a single sentence that made more sense than whole chapters written before. Arguably, there are few things more daunting for a PhD student than to have their work read by somebody like him. His “this is not English” scribbles in the margins of the first thesis chapter I handed in were etched in my mind for a long time. Later on, I would never miss an opportunity to take him back to his harsh words, and he would always say that I fully deserved them. No need for sugar-coating then or ever. Undoubtedly, if my writing is any better nowadays, it is because I tried hard to reach (not successfully enough, I’m afraid) the high bar he had set. Sure enough, in his book, the wait never meant sitting idly by until things just happened. It was more about how hard work will eventually turn everything right. It was a great honour to be one of the founding members of the Presidential Power blog – and indeed witness the idea of the collaborative blog forming into his mind. I was simply astonished by the energy he put into making sure that not a day passed by without a new post, that we covered a wide range of regions, came up with new sections often enough, used every possible social media to spread the message… quite simply, the determination with which he made sure that every single piece of a project he ran was fine tuned to perfection, as if it had not been just one of the tens of things he was juggling with at the same time, was out of this world. I will deeply miss Robert’s kindness, wise words, his everyday “less-is-more” examples, and a myriad of other little caring gestures that he seemed to make so effortlessly…

Cristina Bucur

“Robert shared his knowledge, his experiences and his enthusiasm freely, he was a wonderful scholar and treated everybody with a great amount of respect. He will be terribly missed, not only as a scholar but as a mentor and a friend. And, I will never forget his pure joy in discussing a paper: both the big questions – of which he asked plenty –  and the very, very specific details – with his mountain of knowledge.”

Anna Fruhstorfer

“Robert and I first met in late 2013, yet as bloggers on presidential politics had ‘known’ each other ‘virtually’ for at least two years before then. Starting with the creation of the Presidential Power Blog, we were often in weekly contact. After Robert served as the external examiner for my PhD in 2014, emails were no longer limited to discussing aspects of the blog and he became a trusted colleague, resourceful advisor, and one of my most important mentors (only second to my doctoral supervisor). As such, Robert was always empathetic, supportive, and accommodating in my professional and personal struggles as an early career academic. This is also how I got to know him as a scholar. Robert was always curious and had an amazing ability to ask (very) critical questions without stifling enthusiasm or innovative thought. Despite his prestige as a scholar, he was approachable; he was always happy to reach out to others, particularly to junior scholars, for new insights; he did not mind when others disagreed with his work but valued them and their contributions regardless. Robert leaves an impressive scholarly legacy; however, and maybe more importantly so, he also leaves an unparalleled legacy of kindness to others.”

Philipp Köker

“I met Robert at the beginning of my PhD. He was my ‘research design’ lecturer. His classes were extremely clear and inspiring, I learned an awful lot in these months. I also got a lot of encouragement down the line; even if he was a senior faculty member, he was always available to give me clear feedback on my essays and related issues. One year after he asked me to contribute a guest post to ‘Presidential Power blog’ and, immediately after, he invited me to join as a regular contributor. For three years I was part of that project. Sometimes I wonder if Robert had more than 24 hours in a day. No matter what time I sent the blogpost in, it was always edited within a few hours. We all were motivated by the love and passion he put into the project. I will always remember Robert as an inspiring person, extremely competent and approachable at the same time. His premature departure is a loss not only for political science but also for all current and past researchers who had the luck to meet him.”

Chiara Maria Loda

“Robert was an outstanding scholar, friend and colleague. As a scholar of political institutions, he put semi-presidentialism on the academic map and vastly expanded the study of presidential powers, including by creating the Presidential Power blog. As a friend and colleague, Robert was extraordinarily generous with his time and advice, establishing networks across continents and specializations that we have all benefited greatly from. Fifteen years ago, he accepted to work with me on a book project though we had never met, and that became the start of a long friendship and collaboration I will forever be grateful for. His passing is a great loss. Though we will miss him terribly, the impact of Robert’s many scholarly contributions and friendship will live on.”

Sophia Moestrup

“I met Robert Elgie in 2008, when I started my doctoral studies at Dublin City University. I knew that he was a leading academic in comparative politics, and because of this, as a young PhD student who was trying to find his feet in academia, I couldn’t help feeling a bit intimidated by his wealth of knowledge and academic authority.
He was not directly involved in my studies, but I was fortunate enough to meet him in person and to get his advice in several occasions, be it to improve a paper, to understand the functioning of the academic market, or simply to encourage me to develop confidence. He did not receive a better salary for assuming those roles, he did it out of vocation. Many people who knew him or read his work know about his significant contributions to political science, but he was also a kind teacher and mentor who inspired many students like me.
I consider Robert one of my mentors, to whom I am also deeply grateful for taking me into account to participate in his latest projects, such as this blog.”

Juan Muñoz-Portillo

“Robert was the best colleague, a friend who was always ready to support people. In 2012 I was looking for a Mentor for my post-doctoral research project. In fact this was my first program abroad and I was worried. I wrote a letter via e-mail to a number of professors. To my surprise, Robert whom I did not know at all gave me the chance to be my host professor in Dublin. His immeasurable attention and daily support during that visit had a great influence on my career. I was surprised by his approach to professional activities. At the end of the visit, Robert suggested to me that I write a chapter on Georgia for his book, which was a great honor for me. From then on, I was a part of many important projects with Robert’s support and I was very proud to work with him. Finally we met in Oslo, Norway, where he offered me to think about a book on Georgia and gave me recommendations on the book structure with his usual attention. I don’t know of any other scientist who gave this kind of attention and support to young researchers. I will always appreciate his help and kindness, and I am very saddened by the sudden passing of Robert. My sincere condolences are with his family and all his friends.”

Malkhaz Nakashidze

“I had the great fortune to have Professor Robert Elgie as my PhD Supervisor. Beginning a PhD in my forties was a huge challenge, but one that was made infinitely easier thanks to Robert’s unstinting support and guidance. In spite of his innumerable achievements and responsibilities, Robert was never anything less than generous with his time and constructive with his opinions. I learned a great deal from Robert, both personally and professionally, and will be forever grateful that I got to work with him. May he rest in peace.”

Chris O’Connell

“I come to praise Robert, for there is so much about Robert to honour and praise.[1]
I met Robert some 15 years ago, at a three-day workshop and conference at the University of Edinburgh. We used to joke about the fact that our friendship was due in no small part to three-nights of whiskey drinking – almost all on my part, but Robert was always too English to say so – which was, in turn facilitated by the thoughtfulness of our hosts to put us up right next to an all-night pub.
He was a prolific, insightful, deep-thinker, with no fewer than 10 single-authored or co-authored books, 8 edited books, 58 journal articles, and 73 book chapters. So accomplished, dedicated and successful a scholar was Robert that he was inducted to the Royal Irish Academy in 2016.
But Robert was more than that: he was a generous and enthusiastic mentor, supporter, cheer-leader, champion. He founded the Presidential Power Blog, which has become a platform that many early career researchers find handy for information, disseminating research, and networking. So many have flourished with Robert’s help, support, encouragement, and guidance.
But Robert was more than that: he was also worldly. He could talk about soccer, music, food, whiskey, and, of course, politics. I have never seen Robert drink much at all, yet he knew and shared and suggested. And, wise about drinking: for instance, he shared the adage, “grape after grain, never more pain.” Or was that, “grain after grape, never more ache?” And don’t get him started on Thatcher, or May.
Yes, Robert was more than that: he had a great sense of humour. I can always count on him for a wry comment. I remember asking if he’d come through Australia to visit with me, to which he replied drolly: sure, with all the improvements to transportation, it only takes 2-3 weeks by boat now, doesn’t it?
Yes, Robert was remarkable in so many ways. I wish I wasn’t lulled by the complacency of expecting to see him, hear from him, talk to him, write to him, that I forgot how far-flung we are, as academics. Or how isolated we can be, as academics. Or how solitary our work usually is, as academics.
Robert, I will miss you deeply, and for a very long time. May you rest in peace, until we meet up again for whiskey, my dear friend.”

[1] With apologies to Shakespeare, capturing the spirit, if not the wording, here.

Fiona Yap

1 thought on “Remembering Robert Elgie – Scholar, Colleague, Friend

  1. Liridona Veliu

    “Liridona, don’t tie your eyebrows in a knot. I know what you’re thinking, but get out of your epistemological bubble,” said Robert to my grumpy face during his lecture on “experimental research design” as part of the module that I was attending. “I don’t know who’s in a bubble,” I said, and almost instantly regretted it (well, that I said it out loudly, anyway). I felt a relief when I heard him laughing. It was a declared epistemological warfare herein that I and Robert had decided to take forward and, most importantly, enjoy.

    My Ph.D. project was crushed into pieces. “It does not make sense,” said Robert, “make it simple,” among his long list of comments and questions (a lot of questions). “To you,” I said, “I cannot”. I nevertheless set on my desk and butchered my Ph.D. prospectus cutting a huge amount of words (saved them on a separate file. “Just in case” I said. “Delete” said Robert). It started making sense (even to me). I have thought of him each time I have presented my research to an audience, and his words “don’t be timid about it. They will sense it. Own it”.

    And I will continue to think of him. Robert will be missed but his knowledge will echo on, leaving a sense of gratitude for all of us who were fortunate enough to have met him. If Antonio Porchia’s words that “one lives in the hope of becoming a memory” were true, then Robert lived well.

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