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Zygmunt Layton-Henry obituary

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My father, Zygmunt Layton-Henry, who has died aged 78, was a politics professor and founder of the academic study of race in British politics.

In 1968 he was appointed lecturer in politics at the fledgling University of Warwick. His early work focused on political youth movements and the Conservative party, but then, perhaps influenced by his background as the son of a refugee, he turned to the study of race in British politics, a field in which he became a scholar of significant international standing, publishing extensively, and collaborating with colleagues at home and abroad.

His books included The Politics of Race in Britain (1984) and The Politics of Immigration: Race and Race Relations in Post-War Britain (1992). His most profound influence was probably as director of the Warwick University ESRC Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, 1993-98, when he attracted prestigious overseas scholars to Warwick. As professor emeritus he continued to co-edit the leading book series in the field until 2018.

Known universally as Zig, he was always popular with his students, and many postgraduates kept in touch with him, inviting him to their home countries to give guest lectures. Colleagues remember him as “a global superstar”, “a true gentleman” and “collegial”, with “a gentle manner and good humour” whose “political commitment to race equality was fierce and steadfast”.

Born in Carlisle, Zygmunt was the eldest of five children. His father, also called Zygmunt, was a Polish army officer and his mother, Barbara (nee Matthew), later worked in a bookshop in London, to where the family moved when his father was put on the Polish army general staff. Zig was educated at St Benedict’s school in Ealing, west London, and at Birmingham University, where he studied politics, sociology and economics, and where he met Barbara Campbell in 1964. They married four years later.

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For a while in the 1980s he was a local magistrate, and he was a member and president of Kenilworth rotary club for many years, having been drawn to it by its ethos of service above self.

Zig was a devoted family man with a love of nature and birdwatching, which was always a feature of family holidays – that is, when we succeeded in extracting him from his latest research project.

He is survived by Barbara, his daughters, Alison and me, and his grandsons, Oskar and Alec.



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