Remembering Matthew Wilkinson (1972-2021)
CIGS members were deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague Matthew Wilkinson, who played a key role in the centre over the years. Here, Ruth Holliday shares her memories of Matthew.
Matthew Wilkinson 1972-2021
I had recently taken over as Director for the Centre of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies from Sasha Roseneil, and as a growing Centre we needed a new administrator. Matthew came for interview in 2006. Though shy and nervous at first, his warmth and humour were immediately obvious, along with his clear commitment to equality – and passing the then obligatory typing test confirmed his suitability. I guess we, an all-woman Centre, also thought it a little funny to have a male administrator – a bit like Chris Hemsworth in Ghostbusters, perhaps. It soon became clear we had made an excellent choice.
Matthew got us swiftly organized and occupied the office next to mine on the ground floor of the Centre’s own building – The Coach House; we kept our doors open to our students who occupied the PhD study area and CIGS common room. Together with Matthew we grew CIGS, recruiting two further members of staff, 20 PhD and 25 masters students, hosting international conferences (e.g. Thinking Gender: The Next Generation (2006) and Cosmetic Cultures (2009)) and the WUN Gender Network and securing significant research funding. Gender Studies was both interdisciplinary and international and Matthew’s background in anthropology made him sensitive to students from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, as well as giving him an appreciation of both social sciences and the arts. The tasks he was required to perform were infinitely varied, yet he coped easily with all. Organizing in an academic/ support staff team undoubtedly contributed hugely to the success of the Centre.
Matthew quickly became a linchpin, acting as student and research administrator, events co-ordinator (of which there were many), but most of all, host and heart of our network of staff and students. Sometimes I would bump into new lost and anxious looking students trundling huge suitcases across campus, having just stepped off a plane to spend a year, at least, away from everyone they loved. They would ask ‘Excuse me, do you know where The Coach House is? Do you know Mr Matthew Wilkinson?’ Long before students arrived in Leeds Matthew would be smoothing their path, keeping in touch, reassuring and offering support, as he subsequently did throughout their studies. His understanding of mental health (having worked previously for mental health charity Rethink), incredible warmth and patience meant many students stayed in touch long after they left too. Matthew was the world-famous hub of a global interdisciplinary network of gender scholars that thrived on his FaceBook page, glued together by his kindness. Sadly in 2011 the Centre was considered too small to operate independently and when tidied away into the School of Sociology and Social Policy, considerably reduced in size, Matthew was integrated into the proper administrative structure, later becoming PGR support for two Schools.
Matthew was not only kind, however. That would make him boring. He was certainly not a pushover. After many years of working together we regularly bickered – but never argued or fell out. His stinging critiques of incompetence (always deserved) were often hilarious. He loved to be in the thick of it, and hearing him gleefully laughing and rubbing his hands in the corridor, would always entice me from my office to get the latest gossip – his favorite stories were often of woman colleagues who had torn a strip off a more senior man for their ineptitude.
Hearing of Matthew’s cancer diagnosis was a shock. But he was very optimistic (I wonder now if that was for my benefit). We used to meet in the local park where he gradually re-built his strength after surgery to his kidney. Or he would come over for socially-distanced coffee in the chilly winter garden during lockdown, all the time thinking of when he’d be better. I then received the devastating news that his cancer had spread. We met near his flat and walked up to and around Roundhay Park, largely in the dark – 18,000 steps I noticed later. No arguments about the Labour Party this time. We got chips on the way back and ate them under the Christmas lights. We couldn’t hug like usual… covid restrictions. I saw him twice more. I will miss him always. We all will.