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Prof William Brown, former master of Darwin College, Cambridge, dies at 74

The former master of Darwin College, the influential academic Professor William Brown, has died suddenly at his home, aged 74.

Prof Brown was also chairman of Hinxton Parish Council, which paid tribute to a man of “great intellect and affable style” following his death on Thursday night.

William Brown, formerly of Darwin College (14927389)
William Brown, formerly of Darwin College (14927389)

William Arthur Brown, known was Willy, born April 22, 1945.

An Oxford graduate, his early career was at the University of Warwick, becoming director of its Industrial Relations Research Unit, which gained an international reputation.

He was master of Darwin College at the University of Cambridge from 2000-12 and was made a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2002 for services to employment relations.

Professor Mary Fowler, the current master of Darwin College, said: “Willy was a wonderful man: kind, a superb academic, a man of integrity. We will miss him terribly.”

The college said in a statement: “Willy’s achievements in the fields of industrial relations and labour economics were exceptional. For many decades an eminent scholar in these areas, not only in the United Kingdom but also internationally, Willy was arguably one of the most influential academics of his generation in both research and policy formulation.”

Prof Brown’s seminal publications included Piecework Bargaining (1973), The Changing Contours of British Industrial Relations (1981), The Evolution of the Modern Workplace (2009) and The Emerging Industrial Relations of China (2017).

He was also an honorary fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, where he had been a professorial fellow from 1985-2000.

He held the Montague Burton professorship of industrial relations in the university for 27 years until his retirement in 2012, when he became an emeritus fellow at Darwin.

The college added: “Willy provided academic leadership through various senior administrative roles at Cambridge, including membership of the council, and chairing the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. President of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association 1986-1989, he was a member of the executive of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (formerly the International Industrial Relations Association) 1989-1995. Government appointments included founding membership of the Low Pay Commission 1997-2007 and senior membership of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council and Panel of Arbitrators.”

Two of Prof William Brown's books (14928307)
Two of Prof William Brown's books (14928307)

Tributes from his PhD students and research associates included: “We are so lucky to have known him, but that only seems to make his sudden loss all the more difficult to comprehend.”

And they said: “Willy Brown’s greatest impact may have been through his personal connections and friendships. He strived to make the world not only a better place but also a fairer one and in this respect he lived by example. Willy was a truly magnificent person with a marvellous capacity to speak with anyone on equal terms. He was so selfless, so humble, so generous, and so kind.He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.”

Prof Brown was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney in 2015 in recognition of his contributions to industrial relations scholarship and policy in Australia and internationally.

On behalf of Hinxton Parish Council, Nick Cliffe, Graham Fagg, Dick Jones, Steve Trudgill said in a statement: “Willy was a friend to many, a person with great intellect and affable style, who brought people and views together, and whose leadership of the parish council has been critical in recent times.

“He was experienced as a master of Darwin College, professor of economics, a chair of many university committees and not least an ACAS arbitrator, for which he was awarded the CBE. We were so fortunate to benefit from his wisdom and insight which he used so effectively – and that borne so lightly, good naturedly and with good humour.

“He brings to mind the quotation from the French writer and philosopher Joseph Joubert: “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Though for him I think 'Victory' was the same as Progress as he saw success as when everybody understood each other and found a way forward all could agree on. However, his work as a conciliator did not hold him back from digging in and fighting on our behalf when this was needed. He will be sorely missed in our future planning negotiations.

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of someone who had contributed so much to our community.

“Hinxton Parish Council will consider how best to manage the situation. We shall be appealing widely in the village for any help people can give us as well as seeking new parish councillors and a new chair.

“In the meantime, our thoughts and heartfelt condolences are with Willy’s family.”

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