Willy Brown, 22 April 1945 - 1 August 2019

August 2019
Prof Willy Brown

William Arthur (Willy) Brown, 22 April 1945 - 1 August 2019

The College is deeply saddened to announce the unexpected death of Professor Willy Brown, much-loved Master of Darwin College 2000-2012, who was an expert in the field of Industrial Relations. 

As well as being a former Master of the College, Willy Brown was an Emeritus Fellow of Darwin since 2012 and also an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, where he had been a Professorial Fellow 1985-2000.  He held the Montague Burton Professorship of Industrial Relations in the University for 27 years until his retirement in 2012. 

An Oxford graduate, he made his early career at the University of Warwick, and prior to moving to Cambridge was Director of their Industrial Relations Research Unit, which gained an international reputation for excellence and influence under his leadership.  Willy's achievements in the fields of industrial relations and labour economics were exceptional.  For many decades an eminent scholar in these areas, not only in the United Kingdom but also internationally, Willy was arguably one of the most influential academics of his generation in both research and policy formulation.

His seminal publications included Piecework Bargaining (1973), The Changing Contours of British Industrial Relations (1981), The Evolution of the Modern Workplace (2009) and The Emerging Industrial Relations of China (2017).  An Honorary Professor at Renmin University in Beijing, he was instrumental in bringing together international and Chinese scholars to examine developments in Chinese employment relations

Willy provided academic leadership through various senior administrative roles at Cambridge, including membership of the Council, and Chairing the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. President of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association 1986-1989, he was a member of the Executive of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (formerly the International Industrial Relations Association) 1989-1995.  Government appointments included founding membership of the Low Pay Commission 1997-2007 and senior membership of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council and Panel of Arbitrators.

Appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 for services to employment relations, Willy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Sydney in 2015, in recognition of his contributions to industrial relations scholarship and policy in Australia and internationally.

Willy’s PhD students and research associates have offered the following tributes to him. 

“We are so lucky to have known him, but that only seems to make his sudden loss all the more difficult to comprehend.”

“Willy Brown’s greatest impact may have been through his personal connections and friendships.  He strived to make the world not only a better place but also a fairer one and in this respect he lived by example.  Willy was a truly magnificent person with a marvellous capacity to speak with anyone on equal terms.  He was so selfless, so humble, so generous, and so kind.  He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.”

Professor Mary Fowler, the current Master of Darwin College, said: “Willy was a wonderful man: kind, a superb academic, a man of integrity.  We will miss him terribly.”

The College flag will fly again at half-mast on the day of Willy’s funeral (date to be confirmed).

Thanks to Mike Sheppard, Andy Fabian, and to Willy’s PhD students for providing material for this announcement.

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