Professor David Marquand, 1934 – 2024

We are most saddened at the recent passing of David Marquand. David was elected as Honorary Fellow in 2003, but his association with the College goes back to the 1950s, when he was a student at St Antony’s and then a Research Fellow (1962 to 1964). Subsequently, as Honorary Fellow, his most significant contribution to the College was through the Visiting Parliamentary Fellowship Programme. David was a very active co-organiser with Alex Pravda and Robert (Bob) Service, who ran the Programme. The following is Bob Service’s tribute to David:

David Marquand, our late and much-loved honorary fellow, infused life into St Antony’s bloodstream. He believed in the college’s mission in the UK and the world and devoted much time to seminars and other events. From his early biography of Ramsay MacDonald to his post-retirement books on both Britain and geopolitics he was a pioneering author. He was one of those MPs who helped to make history in politics in the 1980s, most famously in the part he played in founding the SDP. He was an extraordinary Principal of Mansfield College.

Constantly David tried to see the best in everybody he met. Even Labour Party leaders who hated the SDP breakaway were happy to come to Oxford at his invitation. He readily gave informal morning seminars for Gordon Brown in Westminster.   David was an irrepressible seeker after practical truth, as keen to expound his new thoughts on Edmund Burke as on recent UK prime ministers. With his restless intellect and strong principles he broke free from the straitjacket of conventional thinking.

David was a lovely man with a beaming smile and a ready wave. A true gent without any ‘side’. He was the first person to ask me to lunch in college in 1998, even though we had not met, and immediately he dived into a conversation about Yeltsin and the possibilities for Russia’s future. It was years later that I learned that he had trained as a Russian linguist in his younger days. David was keener to let the chat flow than to show off his diverse accomplishments. I never heard him boast.

For several years he and I ran the Visiting Parliamentary Fellowship seminar series together. An innovation was that every week the postgrads received three seats at high table, and David was visibly happy when seated next to any one of them with whom he could share his latest preoccupation. His chuckle was infectious. His phonebook of political friends and former opponents was crucial for getting leading parliamentarians to the college. Whenever he was not chairing, his would be the first hand raised to pose a fundamental question. Never just to embarrass a speaker, always to move the debate forward.

David’s wife Judith was his intellectual partner. Their marriage was the rock on which his political, scholarly and administrative accomplishments were based. Latterly they moved house to Wales, where David enjoyed fresh stirrings of interest in his heritage. His health was in decline in the past few years and Judith bore the tasks of looking after him with admirable stoicism. The college owes a huge debt to both David and Judith. RIP, David.

David’s obituary in The Guardian can also be read here.

Where next?