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Simon Massey obituary -

Simon Massey obituary


My friend Simon Massey, who has died aged 59 of cancer, was an accomplished lecturer in international relations at Coventry University who always prioritised his students. Although he was made an assistant professor, he believed his original title – senior lecturer – better reflected his job. Many of his students went on to have successful careers in international relations.

Simon’s academic expertise and publications were primarily on African security, irregular migration from Africa and the politics of Madagascar, Comoros/Mayotte, Chad and Guinea-Bissau. Policymakers, fellow academics and the media benefited from his insights and collegiality: recently he briefed senior Irish and British diplomats on the Comoros and advised on a multi-stakeholder consultation on Madagascar for the World Bank. He also established a partnership with the Africa programme of the thinktank Chatham House.

Simon was born in Ilford, Essex, the elder of two sons of Michael Massey, who worked for Ford, and his wife, Brenda (nee Highan). His parents decided to move into hospitality, first running a guest house and then the Clarendon Arms pub in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. While at Kenilworth grammar school, Simon helped out in the pub, and taught himself to cook in its kitchen.


When he was a teenager, an exchange placement in northern France introduced him to a new world of culinary and intellectual opportunities and encouraged him to become fluent in French. Simon obtained a BA (Hons) in law from the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and, after he graduated, he and his brother Giles opened the Basement, a popular restaurant specialising in French cuisine in Leamington Spa.

While working as the Basement’s chef, Simon studied part-time at Coventry University, developing an interest in Africa and obtaining an MA in third world studies and a PhD. In 1997 he secured a full-time teaching job there, becoming a senior lecturer and later a director of its African Studies Centre.

At Coventry, Simon met Yvonne Burgess, who became his partner and who shared his three passions: hospitality, horse racing and Africa. Occasionally, Simon successfully combined these, such as on a visit to the oldest horse racing course in the southern hemisphere while on a research trip to Mauritius.


During a research mission to the Comoros in 2017 a hungry Simon charmed a restaurant owner in the capital, Moroni, to allow him to stay through the night curfew in the kitchen. At one African Studies Centre conference dinner in a Coventry hotel, service was so slow that Simon disappeared into the kitchen and took control, getting food delivery back on track.

For many years, Simon led an annual student field trip to the Gambia. He and Yvonne had many Gambian friends, decorated their home with Gambian art and had a passion for the Gambia that never dimmed, even when Simon and one of his colleagues were briefly arrested while on a field trip there.

He was an advocate for Coventry, living in the city, frequenting its real ale pubs and best restaurants, and supporting Coventry City FC.


He is survived by Yvonne, whom he married in 2021, and Giles.

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