Testimonials to Stephen Riley, continued
A Tribute to Stephen Riley, from David Roberts, student and colleague
I am so glad that Steve’s colleagues and friends initiated a memorial site for Stephen. Like so many others, he tutored and taught me in my first degree at Staffordshire University, in International Relations and Politics. After that, I became a PhD candidate under Steve’s supervision, and a full-time teaching partner with him on his Development Studies degree.
Ever since, Steve’s enormous influence has marked my personal and professional development. He was responsible for introducing me to the scholarly material on what became, and remains, my main area of concern and interest. He guided me into my first research exercise in Cambodia; and when I came back from that, in 1991, he walked me through and lent his counsel upon the amazing experiences I was exposed to.
Steve suggested I start a PhD under his supervision. At roughly the same time, he inspired my ambitions to become a lecturer. His lessons guide me, perhaps now more than ever, as I navigate the academic profession at King’s in London. The most over-riding sensation I recall in my relationship with Steve
over the four or so years we worked together was the way his unending patience militated against my naivete. I was not a ‘natural’ scholar; so many basic issues eluded me until his quiet manner and supportive guidance helped me master my ambitions. Whenever I think of Steve’s Herculean task of supervising my doctoral thesis, I can only marvel at the way in which he never judged me; and at how much time and dedication he put into me and my writing as I struggled to grasp the role of research and intellectual advancement. It must have been frustrating at times to listen to my endless questions and misunderstandings.
And I remember with joy and laughter my pre-viva meeting with Steve, at his and Katherine’s house in Leek, the night before the 'Big Day'. It didn’t click at the time, but I think he may have identified the forthcoming questions, and slowly and surreptitiously worked angles of them into the session. Above all else, I can remember going back into the viva room after he and my peers had finalised their verdict. His grin was ear to ear and irrepressible: "Congratulations, Dr. Roberts", he said, beaming in the way I imagine we all readily remember. That night was the first and only time I saw Steve gently oiled. In the ‘Fawn and Firkin’ later on, as our students kept coming up to congratulate me (they couldn’t really know it was Steve’s PhD as much as mine), he kept announcing to anyone listening what a remarkable achievement it had been on my part while he justifiably smirked to himself. But I tell myself he would have been genuinely impressed with the book it later turned into; dedicating it to him goes some of the way to making up for the fact that he won’t read it.
Whilst he was managing all this, continuing his endless research; whilst he dedicated himself to students and their learning experiences; whilst he married and loved Katherine; whilst he faced all the daunting changes that modularisation brought with it, he also taught me to teach. As if he hadn’t enough on his plate, he took me under his tutelage as he, Peter Beaney and myself, with several others soon joined by Michael Stephen, worked up the Development Studies under graduate and post graduate degrees. It was an intense time in some ways, and Steve seemed somehow to put an air of calm into the process. As the new systems swung into inaction, another over-riding characteristic of Steve Riley became clearer. This was his unassailable commitment to a fair deal for students. It is ironic that so many who benefited were unaware of this. I have the most inspiring and delightful memories of Steve going into departmental and School meetings and batting for a student whose performance was uneven, for example. Or of the hours and hours he spent consistently and fairly marking huge numbers of exam or essay scripts.
I’ve heard people say we mimic the people we love. I thought of him the other day as I realised tearfully one of his habits that had rubbed off on me; I write ‘thanks’ at the end of students’ scripts now, because a long time ago, it seems, I saw he did it and his students appreciated it. And I thought of him again when I came across my first ever academic article, which he had helped me craft. He phoned me at home to congratulate me when he heard it was to be published. These are just a few small examples of the relationship he had with students; they influence me now and I think they always will.
I was so lucky to have the best of all worlds in my relationship with Steve. In my privileged position as lecturer and doctoral student (both circumstances made possible mainly by Steve), I got to hear all the student gossip about lecturers. I obviously wear Steve-tinted glasses, but I cannot remember an ill word about him in four years. People loved his shy ways; the way he repeated stuff in lectures so students could get it down; his long coats and scarves and his flat cap in the cold; the way he had piles of computer gear in his office and could only use a small proportion of it - or so he let on. I remember how people laughed when I recited Riley tales to them, like about the public loo cleaning days of his youth in Yorkshire. I remember how people marvelled at his book collection, and the warm intimate nature of his office at Staffordshire Uni that spoke through its chosen art so much of its occupant; and the panoply of subjects he was so learned in. For me, he was a person to aspire to, and so many I knew and know did and do. I am still in touch with some of our former students; whenever we have met in the past, Steve’s name could be relied upon to crop up amid peals of laughter and memories. I was so lucky. I think this is why I can think about celebrating him like this instead of crying. That happens too; but it’s a wonderful feeling to start laughing as he brings back miles and miles of happy memories to me, and probably to everyone else here as well.
I thank whatever forces might have been responsible for Stephen Riley. I cannot overstate how much he was responsible for my renaissance from shop worker before 1988 to the academic I am now. I'm so proud some of his traits rubbed off and stuck on me, and it makes me smile to myself to think that in the future, students may experience something of Steve Riley, without ever knowing him.
Thanks from them for that, Steve. Thanks from me. I miss you very much.
From Barry Munslow, Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool. Given at a memorial service in celebration of the life of Stephen Riley, 4th January, 1999
I have been asked by Katherine to speak about Stephen’s academic contributions and the undoubted mark that he made in this area of his life. Stephen, above all else, was a sensitive, diligent, insightful, hardworking, caring and helpful person in his everyday life, and he brought these qualities along with many others to his work as an academic. His concern for social justice, the plight of the poor and the need for change were reflected in all of his work, both as a writer and as a teacher.
His study of, and love of Africa, was his lifetime’s work, starting with his research and publications on Sierra Leone in West Africa. He was the expert in the field, consulted by everyone on the labyrinthine twists and turns of its politics – Africa Confidential, national and international academics and the press.
Stephen’s academic area of study was profoundly driven by his sense of social justice and the struggle against inequality in all its guises. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he took up the fight against the great evils which promoted injustice and inequality in his subsequent fields of research and teaching – debt and corruption.
From his original work on Sierra Leone where the twin burdens of debt and corruption lay heavily on the backs of the population, he was able to expand the scope of his research Africa-wide. His book on debt, co-authored with Trevor Parfitt was a ‘must’ on the reading lists of most universities where African studies were pursued. He took the side of the poor within the countries of Africa against the corruption of the ruling elites, and he took the side of the developing countries within the global economic system in their struggle to survive on an uneven playing field. Debt was, and still is, undoubtedly one of the major problems facing the continent and Stephen’s work helped create a climate in which a general outcry against the debt burden is leading somewhat belatedly to debt relief.
Debt is a very complicated issue globally, and Stephen mastered the detail and the complexity of the subject, being able to cut through to what was essential and make this accessible to those who read his work or attended his lectures.
Stephen’s reputation both nationally and internationally was growing all of the time and in an exponential fashion in the 1990s. He was promoted from Senior Lecturer to Reader and was about to be made a Professor – a richly deserved recognition of the enormous contribution he has made: to original research in his chosen area of specialism; in his undergraduate teaching, where he was widely regarded as the star lecturer, giving the time, encouragement and lending his own material to every student who approached him; and in postgraduate teaching and research where he contributed massively to the growth of Staffordshire University’s MA and PhD programmes. All of this was undertaken in a climate where university bureaucracy and administration were escalating like crazy – impeding the core work and placing unnecessary extra burdens upon staff.
His contribution to Staffordshire University was considerable. Yet Stephen, as ever, was far too modest in recognising this himself. Not did he ever consider putting himself forward for promotion unless prompted. He was so self-effacing, so underplaying his own contribution. In this sense he was terribly English. The university system, however, was changing around him and everyone was busy and concerned with the pressures they had to face. We often fail within the university system to provide a mechanism of support or to provide an opportunity to say ‘I cannot cope’.
I would like to say a little about Stephen’s contribution to teaching. I had the privilege to be external examiner for one of his PhD students who went through successfully with his doctorate on Mozambique. I was also pleased to address his postgraduate seminar and meet his MA and research students – all with a keen interest in Africa, inspired by Stephen’s teaching and writing, and the warmth of his concerns and interaction to meet their many needs, offer reassurances and sound advice.
I invited Stephen to take over the teaching of my 3rd year course on Sustainable Development in the last academic year. We had time to meet and discuss, and his results were outstanding: he had the highest student evaluations and was widely praised by those students who had the privilege to study his course.
If we just review his exponential research output in the 1990s, his case for a chair speaks for itself. In 1996 he produced refereed journal articles on Sierra Leone in Electoral Studies, and on Liberia in ROAPE. He published a comparative study of the two countries in Conflict Studies and a chapter on the pressures towards democratisation in Africa in a book collection.
In 1997 he produced a refereed journal article on Sierra Leone. His growing reputation in corruption research was apparent with an article on State collapse and social reconstruction in Africa in India Quarterly. The UN Development Programme had invited him to produce a paper on corruption which they included in a report of their conference on ‘Corruption and integrity improvement initiatives’.
In 1998, we begin to see coming to fruition his research on trying to overcome some of the evils creating injustice and inequality. He published in the European Journal of Development Research a detailed study of ‘The political economy of anti-corruption strategies in Africa’. This was deemed sufficiently pathbreaking to also be included in a broader study of Corruption and development, edited by Mark Robinson. He had two chapters published in books and another academic article published in Conflict, civil society and peace-building in West Africa.
Stephen has made important contributions to our understanding of debt, corruption and more recently, democratisation and conflict resolution. He never shirked from the difficult topics. He was working on his next book entitled Stealing from the poor: corruption, development and poverty in the South which captures his concerns. Katherine and Stephen constantly supported each other in their writing – a great team.
Stephen was a person not content merely to understand the world, he also wanted to change it. His is a great loss, but he has left an important body of scholarship that will ensure that his memory lives on, amongst his colleagues and future generations of students who will have him to thank for making difficult, but important topics accessible and understandable.