An inspiring lecturer, colleague and friend

I have been fortunate enough to have been taught by Simon when I was a Joint Honours Sociology student from 1999-2002, and then to work with him as a colleague from 2007-2012. We had seen each other a few times since I left the University of Derby (I wish that it had been more often – and that our last meeting could’ve been more glamorous than an impromptu one by an escalator in the Intu!), and I cherish his friendship and mentorship immensely.

Because I was a Joint Honours student, I was not able to take most of Simon’s theory modules, but he taught me in my final year and was my dissertation supervisor. I wrote my dissertation on youth transitions and risk in late modernity – I remember with some trepidation asking Simon (in the pub!) whether he would consider supervising my dissertation, and I was delighted when he agreed. That marked the beginning of many intellectually stimulating, challenging conversations with Simon, continuing when I returned to Derby as a colleague. As many others have commented, his knowledge and skills of social and cultural commentary and critique were second to none. Whilst I often struggled to keep up with his incredible knowledge, I always enjoyed Simon’s company.

Simon had an exceptionally keen, intelligent and dry sense of humour – it was therefore apt that he developed a module on Humour and Society. I won’t call it groundbreaking or innovative, as he hated the corporate academic lingo that we academics are conditioned to embrace, but it made a valuable contribution to the Sociology curriculum, along with his modules on music and globalisation, amongst others. He was thoroughly committed to delivering high quality teaching which challenged students to think about society and culture in new and enlightened ways. Equally, he didn’t suffer fools gladly: when discussing students were not engaging, the advice to them to “piss on the pot or get off” is a phrase that I will never forget!

Whilst Simon had many passions, technology and administration were not among them. He often commented on the irony of needing to slope into my office to seek assistance with administrative tasks, and I remember his shock and disbelief when we received new computers and, on inspecting his, he realised that there was no floppy disk drive!

Simon’s untimely death is a huge shock – I am so sad that our rich, stimulating, supportive conversations will be no more. My heart is broken for Anna and Melitta, for whom he clearly had so much love, and of whom he was so proud. I wish he could read all of these wonderful comments and realise the profound effect that he has had on so many. Thank you, Simon.

One thought on “An inspiring lecturer, colleague and friend”

  1. Inspirational, Self Effacing and Brilliant – Simon Speck!

    Like Becky I met Simon at the University of Derby as an Undergraduate between 1998 and 2001 although my trajectory was different coming from Religious Studies and Creative Writing. However it is difficult to forget the first impressions of this guy who could not only talk about and to contemporary philosophy, with a keen sense of the political implications, but new more about Greek philosophical figures than I could ever absorb. This was a sociologist I was told, and in stunned silence I listened to a discussion of hermeneutics thinking he must be a sociologist of religion.

    When I returned to the University in 2006/07 as an Associate I had the good fortune to work (albeit in very temporary fashion) in Sociology, alongside colleagues (many of whom have contributed here) only to discover that Simon was in fact a brilliant social theorist ( but he would never say that). Although our encounters were brief in those early days, I would not have found Beck and ‘Risk Society’ had it not been for Simon, how ironic that risk is a fundamental part of my postgraduate teaching today. His piercing intellect made me cautious about my own sense of connection with Goffman’s form of Interactionism, because as I suspected, but only discovered much later, Simon was not always a fan of my interpretation, but had the good grace to discuss it with me.

    His dry humour and rye smile were a joy. I loved to hear him privately berating a lack of engagement by his students or his recounting of lecture room experiences, wherein his oft expressed criticism of some of those participating in his classical sociological theory debates, were, “why do they not read”, and “if only sometimes they would listen”. As the consummate professional, year-on-year he devised more effective tools for students to engage with the founding sociological fathers and their contemporary legacies, including transcribed documentation of primary texts. His creation of seminars shared with him by the team were testament to his commitment to read it as it was written, to understand it at it discernible best. However, to fail to critique the text was to fail to appreciate it, both frowned upon in equal measure.

    Too few of us meet truly inspiring people in our lives, and Simon was one who inspired simply by the quality of his conversation. He balanced a dry humour and irony, with a genuine and wonderfully intriguing sense of learning about lifestyle changes, as he embraced his deeply committed love for his family, Anna and Melitta of whom he spoke so fondly, and of the joys and jolts of parenthood, which all too rarely we shared.

    Simon you are held in the highest esteem, as a friend and colleague, you have touched so many lives and we must be grateful for that and proud to know you.

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