A Tribute to Dr Roona Simpson

We write, with great sadness, to let colleagues, students and friends know of the death of Dr. Roona Simpson. Roona was, until 2015, a lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences and a committed, engaging teacher of research methods, feminist theory and practice, and the sociology of families and relationships. She was herself a graduate of Glasgow University, having been awarded a First Class Honours degree in Sociology and Philosophy in 1997. She completed her PhD at the London School of Economics’ Gender Institute (2005) before working as a researcher in London and in Edinburgh at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR). At the latter she was part of the Rural and Urban Solo Living Project with Lynn Jamieson and Fran Wasoff. She returned to Glasgow in 2011 as a Lecturer in Sociology.

Kindness and respect

Roona was an unfailingly supportive, generous person, who did a great deal to make her subject area, and the University more generally, a welcoming and vibrant place. She embodied, for both her students and colleagues, many of the qualities of the academic vocation which feel increasingly under threat, not least: patience, scrupulousness and a careful sensitivity to detail. This latter quality was always evident in her research but also in the way in which she dealt with others. The kindness and respect with which she treated her students was characteristic. Moreover, she was someone who understood the role of the academic, not as the pursuit of narrowly specialist knowledge but as something born out of a concern for, and engagement in, the wider world. Deeply cultured, she loved reading novels, attending concerts and the theatre, and was also instinctively political, always reflecting on, making sense of (and often campaigning in response to) contemporary events.

Roona made important contributions to her chosen field of the sociology of intimacy and family life. This was the case in her case in her published papers along with her books: 2008’s Contemporary Spinsterhood in Britain: Gender, Partnership Status and Social Change and 2013’s co-authored Living Alone: Globalization, Identity and Belonging. Both of these studies encouraged sociologists caught up in the discussion of changing forms of personal relationships and family formations to pay better attention to a group sometimes overlooked or dismissed in such narratives: never-married single people. As her research demonstrated, such people were not cut off from wider social changes but instead operated within them and lived rich personal lives with a variety of intimate relationships and connections. Against the trend for many to treat singleness, especially among older women, as a ‘problem’, Roona’s research advocated a richer, more grounded appreciation for personal life and intimate practices. In her final article, published in 2015, she argued that such practices indicated an emerging ‘positive single self-identification’ amongst women. Even after joining Glasgow, Roona remained an active associate of CRFR, participating in its research briefings, conferences and seminars.

Bubbly enthusiasm

In pursuing her research Roona showed her commitment to both quantitative and qualitative forms of data collection. Colleagues who spoke to her about her work will always remember her castigation of demographers for treating women in isolation to men within their datasets; to understand fertility, she would remind us, you have to be aware of how both act. She was also a skilled and committed interviewer, whose writing attested to her interest in, and careful exploration of, personal lives. Consolidating these interests she co-edited an immensely valuable volume in 2011 entitled Researching Families and Relationships: Reflections on Practice. Both her research and her interest in methodology was informed by critical feminist theory, and she remained engaged with feminist thinking and activism throughout her life, most recently by volunteering for the Glasgow Women’s Library.

All of us who knew her feel her loss very deeply. We will miss her quick wit, her sense of fun and her bubbly enthusiasm. We will miss her deep interest in people, her concern for the next generation of scholars and her encouraging words. Finally, we will miss the steel with which she fought for the things that matter.

There will be a memorial service at 5pm on Friday 17 March in the University Chapel. All friends, colleagues and students of Roona are welcome to attend.