In Memory of Tom McGlew
Our much-loved colleague, Tom McGlew, who died in May, joined the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Sociology in October 1970 from Brown University.
He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1984, and served as Head of Sociology in the crucial years in which the School of Social and Political Science was taking shape. Although Tom officially retired in 2005, he was still involved in our teaching until the onset of his illness, and played an active role in recruiting Edinburgh ‘junior year abroad’ students from US colleges.
Decades before enhancing the non-academic impact of research became government policy, Tom worked closely with NGOs, community bodies and local businesses, bringing rigorous research to bear on their activities. Among the many projects he was involved in, one of the most influential was a health education initiative based in the Polaroid factory in Dunbartonshire’s Vale of Leven, which was a major employer at the time. The project sought to tackle the entrenched health problems of the west of Scotland, offering health screening services and advice on food, exercise and smoking, first in the factory and then in a converted double-decker bus that travelled around the community. The project sparked change in the working practices of the factory and is still having an impact today, with over 1000 people taking part in its annual fun run this year.
Tom is also remembered as a superb teacher, indeed the best of all of us in the most difficult teaching role, introducing Sociology to hundreds of first-year students, most of whom will have had no previous experience of the discipline. He conveyed an excellent choice of lively examples with great clarity. In an understated, informal way he made clear that he cared deeply about students and their educational experiences, which comes across strikingly in the testimonials that we have received.
“The man who stood in front of us … spoke with great authority and confidence. He instantly grabbed my attention. He really cared.”
“As someone who is now involved in teaching myself, he continues to be an inspirational teacher.”
"Whenever I had to go and see him, he was always very kind and supportive. Even after leaving university he would stop and chat when I passed him in the street, and after talking to him I always walked away feeling better about the world. Simply a wonderful human being."
That last phrase sticks in the mind, as Tom’s best possible obituary.