UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Obituary: Ian W. Roberts (1927-2021)

18 February 2021

The School is saddened to announce the passing of Ian W. Roberts, the SSEES historian, who died peacefully at his home on 10 February 2021.

As the author of History of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (1991 and an updated edition with Roger Bartlett in 2009), Ian Roberts represented for those who knew him the institutional memory of the School. With his departure, one of the few living connections to the figures who made SSEES what it was to become was sundered.

Ian was born in Annfield Plain, County Durham of which he spoke with affection although his emotional roots were firmly embedded in his beloved Scotland. He graduated from Cambridge with a First in modern languages, German and Russian and completed his national service in the RAF (1948-50). He joined the Foreign Office in 1951 and retired in 1985 having had postings to Austria, Germany, Hungary, Burundi, Argentina, and Norway.

Ian was an Honorary Fellow at SSEES from 1985 until 1999 and continued to be an active presence at the School for many years as a long-standing member of the Travellers where his papers are deposited. He lent his wide-ranging knowledge to the work of their Library as well as continuing to give talks and lectures. One such was to the GB Russia Society in 2015 on the visit to Great Britain in 1839 of the future Alexander II as a young man.

Ian married Pamela his beloved wife in 1956 and he felt her loss very deeply after 56 years of marriage. They are survived by their daughter Catherine who was with the British Council and latterly with Southwark Council in finance and cared for him in his later years. His many acquaintances and friends will know that he was a committed letter writer in longhand and pen following up on a long lunch sometimes taken at the Ognisko Polskie, with a continuing account of the topic backed by photocopies and cuttings. Good company, assiduous scholarship, kind humanity.

Written by his colleague and a friend Prof George Kolankiewicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UCL SSEES