I wasn’t quite two years old when Linda Persson became the Administrative Secretary for the Social History Society in 1986. She was still in post 28 years later, when I met her at the Society’s annual conference in Newcastle.
When, a year later, I got more involved with the Society as Communications Officer, a number of people were helpful to me as I found my feet – my predecessor Katrina Navickas, the Chair Karen Hunt and, of course, Linda. Responding to news that she will soon be heading off for a well-earned retirement, Professor Eric Evans, a long-standing leading member of the Society and one of its Honorary Vice-Presidents, commented that for many people Linda was the Society. And I got a close-up view of exactly why that was the case.
For the past year-and-a-half we’ve been working closely together, dealing mostly with conferences, members bulletins and websites. Working with Linda made my job easier, more successful and more enjoyable. But it also gave me a glimpse of just how much she did in a job often much more complex and cumbersome than we might imagine.
Without any fuss or drama, Linda fielded questions from inside and out, organised the Society’s business, and on many, many occasions served as the Society’s institutional memory. She was quietly effective in a way we should all aspire to. And she will leave a gap at the centre of the Society. In all likelihood, her absence will be most felt without us knowing that’s what it is. It’ll be when we don’t even realise that she would have stepped in to offer wise counsel or when a problem that blows up that she would never have allowed to reach that stage.
As with every good administrator, her victories were daily but without fanfare. So as we say a fond farewell and mark the enormous contribution of Linda Persson: academic administrator extraordinaire, let’s take it as a cue to keep in mind just how important it is to have good, dedicated, long-serving administrators around. We might figure out which way the academic world is supposed to turn, but they make it happen.