We have learned with great sadness of the death of Renie Lewis, a former colleague in the Politics Department, who passed away after a short illness on 27 March 2023.
Dr Bob Borthwick, Renie’s colleague in the Politics Department, writes:
Renie’s first job in the University was in the Faculty of Social Sciences’ office. The late Peter Savigear of the Politics Department, who had worked with Renie when he was Sub-Dean of the Faculty, encouraged her to apply for a secretarial post in Politics. Thanks to Peter’s encouragement, the Department acquired someone who was to have a big impact on its life for more than twenty five years.
Renie possessed first class secretarial skills (her early training in secretarial college in the USA had been a rigorous one). But her contribution to the Department was much broader than that. As technology changed the nature of secretarial work, Renie embraced that change with enthusiasm and was an enormous help to some of her more technophobic academic colleagues.
One of Renie’s greatest gifts was that she was a good listener. Staff and students found her easy to talk to and many students would talk to her about their problems in a way that they never would to the academic members of the Department. She devoted a great deal of time to helping students with mental health or physical problems and in effect she became the Department’s welfare officer. In that role she was an important link to the University’s Welfare Service and the AccessAbility Centre.
Renie was an excellent ambassador for the Department within and for the University. Whether it was welcoming visitors to the Department, dealing with External Examiners or tactfully handling members of the Janner family in connection with the Department’s Barnett Janner Travelling Scholarship.
Over the years Renie took on more and more responsibility and became the Departmental Administrator. Successive Heads of Department knew they could rely on her to get things right. Perhaps her greatest asset was her friendly personality which helped to make the Department a very happy place to work.
Renie retired in 2011. She was such a lively presence and so infectious a personality. It is hard to think of her in the past tense.
Dr Philip Lynch, Associate Professor in Politics, writes:
It is rare for someone to shape the values of a university department for over thirty years, and for those values to endure more than a decade after their retirement. Rarer still when that person is not an academic. But Renie Lewis had rare qualities. She enhanced the lives of all who knew her. With Bob Borthwick, Renie ensured that the Department of Politics and International Relations put students first, and that they received the best possible learning experience and pastoral care. Generations of students, and staff, will be grateful for her support and kindness.
When the department came top in the National Student Survey, the reason was obvious to students and staff: it was Renie. We were the best because she was the best.
Renie was caring, generous, inspirational, and vibrant. I organised a departmental sweepstake on the result of the 1997 general election. As the supposed expert on British politics, I thought I had half a chance of winning it. But no, Renie won it. She was brilliant at everything. Renie was delighted. At least until the University newsletter reported on her triumph and described her as the ‘departmental secretary’.
The speed at which Renie’s final illness progressed was especially cruel. But she left us knowing that she was loved, had made a difference and that her values live on in those of us fortunate to have worked with her.
- A collection was set up in Renie’s memory. Flowers were also welcome at her funeral.
Professor Robert Garner, Emeritus Professor of Politics, writes:
Renie was a wonderful person; kind, funny, caring, humble and smart.
She was already a fixture in the Politics Department when I arrived in 1995 and it quickly became apparent to me how important she was. Appreciated and respected by colleagues and loved by successive cohorts of students she was in fact the face of the Department. Our success in the NSS at the time was, in no small measure, down to her.
I particularly benefitted from Renie’s support during my time as Head of Department between 2000-2003 and again between 2006-2009. Without her calm approach to problems and her unrivalled competence, the job of leading the Department at a very challenging time would have been so much more difficult. Sometimes, that support went above and beyond the call of duty like the times I turned up at work with a bad back and she would get me doing weird and wonderful exercises on the floor of her office.
The fact that so many former colleagues, including me, kept in touch with Renie after she retired in 2011 is a testament to the affection in which she was held.
We will miss her greatly.
Professor Mark Phythian, writes:
Renie was a wonderful colleague and such a warm, positive, and caring person. Her commitment to the Department of Politics and International Relations and to the University was a major factor in its popularity amongst our students. Renie seemed to know all of our undergraduates personally. She took a keen interest in their personal journeys through the University and worked hard to make sure all had appropriate support. I also remember how good Renie was with newly-appointed academic staff as they found their feet at the University.
More than this, Renie was an enormously talented administrator. She had an unparalleled ability to keep all of the plates spinning all of the time while making the task look effortless. It may have helped that she worked at the University for 32 years – she knew everyone.
Renie was the Departmental Manager when I became Head of Department in 2009, and from then until she took early retirement at the end of 2011. I was fortunate enough to work closely with her. I remember the day Renie told me she was going to retire, something that came as a complete surprise simply because she so clearly enjoyed working with students and staff. I think Renie was expecting a response from me more along the lines of “Congratulations, I am very happy for you…” rather than the “But you can’t leave…” that actually came out. As Departmental Manager she was an impossible act for her immediate successors to follow.
We marked Renie’s retirement with a farewell party on campus and a dinner at the Belmont Hotel. Afterwards, she sent a thank you note that ended: “What I said in both speeches is true – I do feel like the University has been a community to me – but most of all the department has been a place I have really loved. I know that is way too soppy, and I am sure I am the only person who would ever think that, let alone say it. But it is true!!!So thank you so much for everything.”
The University has a lot to thank Renie for - as do the many students and colleagues who passed through the Department during the time she worked here, and who will remember her so fondly.
Adrian Gascoigne in the Welfare Service, writes:
Renie was always a friend to the Welfare Service with her generosity of spirit and kindness of nature. In my first few years at University she was always willing to advise and support me when I was lost with how processes worked. She taught me a flexibility of approach and was the exact opposite of “computer says no”. She always offered a reassurance in trying to find best solutions to problem issues or struggling students. She had a non-judgemental approach that I still use as reference whenever I am finding my patience tested by difficult students! Renie was a special person and will be sorely missed by all who worked with and knew her.