Remembering Mary McIntosh (1936-2013)

Mary McIntosh, who was at Essex for twenty years between 1976 and 1996, died in January. Ken Plummer wrote this on his blog at the time. You can also find his fuller obituary in The Guardian and under ‘Memories’: Mary McIntosh

Goodbye Mary : We Love You

Mary McIntosh was a popular and influential member of the department form 1976 to 1996

Mary McIntosh was a popular and influential member of the department from 1976 to 1996

It is with very great sadness I learnt of the death of Mary McIntosh – a very dear person to me and many others – and a great inspiration.  She had bounced back from very serious illness several times over the past few years; but finally it was another  stroke that took her on Saturday January 5th 2013. Sad news for the start of the new year. Condolences to all her close friends but especially Ange, her long time partner, and Duncan her ‘son’.

Mary was a pioneer: a second wave feminist, an active member of the lesbian and gay movement, one of the most quietly influential of sociologists of the 1960’s through 1990’s, and a wonderful person. She also remained a committed socialist.

She was one of the greatest influences on my life. Very early on, I wrote to her as an undergraduate when she was teaching at Leicester and she sent me several of her unpublished papers on the sociology of homosexuality. These were amazing pieces and a real eye opener for me. Very shortly afterwards, one of these papers was published as ‘The Homosexual Role’ in the journal Social Problems: the rest is history. It has become one of the classical foundational arguments of the sociology of homosexuality. It gave a historical and fully social meaning to the idea of same sex relations. I was to meet her personally just a few years later at the London School of Economics- first at a seminar on ‘deviance’ for graduate students ( when I was giving my first ever paper: Changing Conceptions of Homosexuality in 1968 She was very encouraging).  But later and more significantly we became friends in the very early meetings of the London Gay Liberation Front in 1970. She became a very prominent figure in this movement – with her partner of the time, Elizabeth Wilson.She was also becoming even more active in the then flourishing Women’s Movement .

Her activism bridged into a careful and thorough sociology. She had been well trained into the elements at Oxford and Berkeley, and adopted first functionalist ideas then Marxist ones ( there is really only a small (but major ideological) step between them). She became involved in  establishing the new and lively group of young academic Turks studying crime- the National Deviancy Conference. She was also engaged in setting up two journals Economy and Society (1978-1994) and Feminist Review (1972-1978) where she became part of the influential  first editorship and stewardship (both have gone on to become major world journals). She was also very active in the British Sociological Association.

Finally, I came to know her most of all when she arrived at Essex as a colleague at the University of Essex in 1976/7 – where she worked for the next twenty years. Academically, she straddled several fields: criminology, theory,social policy, the family, feminism, Marxism. She loved teaching and taught the first feminism and gender course in the department – hugely popular with students, but dropped when she retired. Here she was to become a key influence and the first woman ‘Head of Department’ of Sociology ( 1986-9). Sadly, and to the shame of the Essex Department, she was never promoted to the rank of full Professor.  She retired in 1996.

After her retirement, she worked a little at Birkbeck College, London; but she gradually  left ‘academia’ behind. She worked for some time at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and continued her  political activities. Her papers have been chronicled at the London School of Economics

Even though she did not like writing and suffered writer’s block, she published some influential works including:

  • co -editor with Paul Rock of Deviance and social control (Tavistock, London, 1974);
  • The organisation of crime (Macmillan, London, 1975);
  • co-writer with Michelle Barrett of The anti-social family (NLB, London, 1982);
  • co-writer with Lynne Segal : Sex exposed: sexuality and the pornography debate (Virago, London, 1992);
  • And a host of pathbreaking  articles on an array issues like of homosexuality, prostitution and family policy.

Mary was a serious intellectual and a passionate activist. A strong, caring, quiet presence – she also had a very joyful sense of fun and always ready for a dance and a laugh.  I missed her greatly when she left Essex; the department could never be quite the same for me. And now she leaves a gaping hole in the world. But she will be loved in remembrance.

For Mary: The Choir Invisible

Oh, may I join the choir invisible 
Of those immortal dead who live again 
In minds made better by their presence; live 
In pulses stirred to generosity, 
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn 
For miserable aims that end with self, 
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars, 
And with their mild persistence urge men’s search 
To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven: 
To make undying music in the world, 
Breathing a beauteous order that controls 
With growing sway the growing life of man. 
So we inherit that sweet purity 
For which we struggled, failed, and agonized 
With widening retrospect that bred despair. 
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued, 
A vicious parent shaming still its child, 
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved; 
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies, 
Die in the large and charitable air, 
And all our rarer, better, truer self 
That sobbed religiously in yearning song, 
That watched to ease the burden of the world, 
Laboriously tracing what must be, 
And what may yet be better, — saw within 
A worthier image for the sanctuary, 
And shaped it forth before the multitude, 
Divinely human, raising worship so 
To higher reverence more mixed with love, – 
That better self shall live till human Time 
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky 
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb 
Unread forever.

This is life to come, – 
Which martyred men have made more glorious 
For us who strive to follow. May I reach 
That purest heaven, — be to other souls 
The cup of strength in some great agony, 
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love, 
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty, 
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused, 
And in diffusion ever more intense! 
So shall I join the choir invisible 
Whose music is the gladness of the world. 

George Eliot

Some former students

After  Mary’s death old students started to write  these remembrances. The first few are here: others are on the page Remembering Mary. If you have one to add please send it to Ken Plummer at plumk@essex.ac.uk
6th January
Dear Ken
 I’m so shocked, so sad
Annabel Faraday
_____________
9th January

Dear Ken

Saw a notice in The Guardian this morning re Mary’s passing – very saddening – just felt the need to let folk in the Department know how much I appreciated her teaching – I recall she gave all the Lectures for the 1st year core course 1981-82 – Thursday mornings if I recall correctly. Like all her students I really respected her and held her in high regard.

Steve Willis (Sociology and History 1981-84)

_____________
9th January
Dear KenHappy New Year and all that, although it doesn’t seem so after I heard the sad news today about the passing of Stan Cohen and Mary McIntosh. My condolences to the people in the Department who know them much better, although I do hold both in high regard. I last chatted with Stan quite a few years back at a conference in Melbourne, and I remember Mary as my stand-in supervisor (‘it’s not my area, but it looks good to me!’) after Mike Lane left academe…..
David Rowe
______________
9th January
Thanks Ken.A wonderful and fitting memorial. I met Mary briefly, first at Essex, but knew her work well and she was so influential … This is a sad time but you have celebrated Mary beautifully.Phil
10th January
My dear Ken,I was so very sorry to hear about Mary’s death and read your beautiful tribute that was circulated around the European Group (Study of Deviance and Social Control).As I said in my previous email – you and she were inspirational teachers. Her feminist teaching really impacted on me and introduced me to a world that I have never left and inspired me to a professional life as a socialist, feminist and activist. I remember the impact of reading the Anti Social Family and the excitement of receiving my copies of feminist review in the post! A wonderful woman with a wonderful legacy.I have been reading the many tributes to Stan Cohen and I recall you introducing me to his work and its ongoing significance to my work around state violence.Sad times.
Deborah Coles
The messages continued and you can find them by clicking here: Remembering Mary

, , , ,

  1. #1 by Yvonne Clarke on July 16, 2013 - 11:34 am

    I have only now, so belatedly read of Mary’s death. What a beautiful tribute, Ken, with lovely photo and particularly pertinent poem. Thank you.
    I was an Australian undergraduate at Essex in the mid-seventies, ‘coming to terms with my lesbianism’. Mary made it a breeze. I thought her so charismatic, with so much history of activism behind her. I now reflect on what she achieved for so many women in the world, both through her teaching and her activism.
    I shall be in London in September (’13), and hope to visit Mary’s grave to say ‘thank you’. I am assuming that her ashes are interred at St. Marylebone’s. Are you able to tell me if this is correct?
    Thank you Ken, and my deepest sympathy to you in the loss of such a dear friend.
    Warm regards,
    Yvonne Clarke.

  2. #2 by Yvonne Clarke on July 18, 2013 - 5:03 am

    Yvonne Clarke. glowboyd@bigpond.com
    9 Heidelberg Court, Badger Creek, VIC 3777. Australia
    Phones: (03) 59622324/ 0413 881 005.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: