Professor Graham McFee 1951-2023
Dr Paul McNaught-Davis (Former Head of Chelsea School) and Alan Tomlinson (Emeritus Professor of Leisure Studies) pay a touching tribute to Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Graham McFee who sadly passed away recently:
“On 10 October the University of Brighton lost one of its longest-serving academic stars when Emeritus Professor Graham McFee died at his home in California. He was cared for by his wife Myrene and at the end also by his two stepdaughters Adrienne and Stephany at home in Riverside, Los Angeles. Graham had been receiving treatment for multiple myeloma for several years and making excellent progress when he suffered a stroke last December. Sadly, he never fully recovered from this initial stroke and, after having many months of care at home with his partner of 40 years, the further medical episodes during September proved too much.
“Graham was the University of Brighton’s Professor of Philosophy and moved, in 2012, to a full-time position in the Philosophy Department at California State University, Fullerton. In 1974 he had joined the Chelsea College of Physical Education in Eastbourne as a young lecturer specialising in aesthetics and emerging areas of study concerning dance and dance education. The College was a long-established and pioneering institution formed in the Chelsea area of London in 1898. Graham became a key figure in growing the academic and analytical profile of the ‘College’ as it developed first within East Sussex College of Higher Education (1976-79), Brighton Polytechnic (1980-92) and the University of Brighton.
“Throughout this history, Chelsea was able to sustain a high level of achievement in the training of physical education and dance practitioners, able to attract and recruit professionally mature practitioners and academics in emerging specialist fields such as the scientific study of sport, psychological dimensions of sport, dance and human movement/performance, the sociological context of sport and leisure, and philosophy. Graham was the first of these ‘new academics’ and became a central figure and major influence in the context of new course developments, teaching programmes, research and scholarly ambitions.
“Graham formally left the University of Brighton in the Summer of 2012, after nearly four decades of service; he had for the last six years combined his University of Brighton role with a position as Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Fullerton; and on retiring from the University of Brighton he remained a member of the University with the title Emeritus Professor of Philosophy.
“Graham studied for his undergraduate degree at the University of Keele, graduating with a BA in Philosophy and English (1973). Keele was renowned as an innovator of interdisciplinarity and Graham flourished in this atmosphere. His argumentative skills and analytical rigour were fully expressed in his doctoral thesis, The historical character of art: an essay in constructivist philosophy, University College (London) 1982. Graham represented a form of “critical humanities” long before this label was thought of but, most importantly, he always nourished the roots of his academic interests by maintaining a pure philosophical aspect to his research, for example his work with the ideas of the Ludwig Wittgenstein.
“Ex-students (some now academic staff) we have spoken to recall he was a delightful, approachable, polite, and respectful teacher, with a quirky style including little eye contact and much beard stroking but whose lectures and tutorials taught them how to think, how to argue a case. Many have testified to the lasting influence of his teaching, even if it was later in life that they realised the degree of Graham’s influence upon how they interpreted the world and worked out the pros and cons of problems that might arrive in either their personal or their professional lives.
“Graham published prolifically throughout his career, publishing 15 sole-authored books, five edited books and around a hundred journal articles. Senior academic colleagues in the University recall Graham’s mentoring powers, and consistent accessibility. He addressed academic audiences across the world and yet, as those Brighton colleagues have emphasised, he was an “incredibly modest and humble person”, with an “impish sense of humour” that sparkled in conversations and was reflected in many of his choices for titles; these included Much of Jackson Pollock is Vivid Wallpaper (1977), Admirable Legs, (2013) as well as his professorial inaugural lecture. He had the look of a Bloomsbury intellectual of the 1930s, but the open-mindedness of an outstanding academic with trail-blazing impact worldwide.
“At times strange things seemed to happen in Graham’s presence – only Graham could successfully drive a minibus with a roof rack, and full of overseas students, into a multi-story carpark in Oxford but fail to get it out again until the AA had been called to remove the now severely damaged roof rack wedged under the exit! One can only surmise he must have lost a passenger enroute. Despite such accidents Graham for many years enthralled and enhanced overseas students’ experience with wonderful field trips he undertook on Saturdays whilst his colleagues rested – he was a team player.
“Graham revelled in scholarly environments, never more excited than when immersed in a unique document in the Bodleian Library. Every year, for one week without fail and often other days too he would be in Oxford on private study. He recalled studying one document from the archives, which had been written in pencil by its author and was not allowed to be copied, when noticing a drop of sweat rolling slowly down his nose and just being able to lean away in time for the drip to drop away from the precious document. He felt the responsibility intensely and worried about the incident.
“Beyond his philosophical prowess and his mastery of aesthetics, Graham was somewhat of the Renaissance Man: sailor, swimming teacher, sub-aqua diver, fencer, poet, and exceptional Contract Bridge player. As well as making people think, he knew how and when to awake the critical sensibilities of an audience. His use of the television series Blackadder in getting JYA (Junior Year Abroad) USA students to see beyond their set, and unquestioned, cognitive frameworks was hugely effective; such visiting students returned home with a refreshed and enhanced critical, comparative and interpretive framework.
“Graham made relatively hidden contributions to academic fields too, such as his behind-the-scenes contributions to the emerging profile of the Leisure Studies Association, supporting his wife Myrene in her work as administrator for a UK-based professional association which was to flower as an internationally influential body in leisure and sport studies.
“Colleagues in Brighton and Falmer, including in the former Schools of Humanities and Education, as well as his home the former Chelsea School, in Eastbourne will remember Graham with gratitude and fondness, not just as a kind and considerate individual but as a genuine cross-university player. His insights were vital in articulating the identity of the then Chelsea School and its mission, such as, in 2001, advising the University that in the School’s programmes students are taught across subject divisions, and that “any discussion of one ‘subject’ in isolation from the other can be … misleading”. It’s a simple statement, elegantly yet forcefully put. And that’s how the man was, a brilliant mind in a modest and sensitive character, whose stellar career will be remembered and who will be missed by all who were lucky enough to have known him.”
Dr Paul McNaught-Davis and Alan Tomlinson, 31 October 2023
Emeritus Professor Graham McFee’s personal website.