Obituary: Harry Redner, Colleague

As a colleague, Harry Redner was peerless – unique by virtue of his originality, enlightening by virtue of his brilliance, inspiring by virtue of his enthusiasm, and caring by virtue of his humanity. For more than twenty years, while we were colleagues in the Politics Department at Monash University, Harry’s and my rooms faced each other across the sixth floor corridor of the Menzies Building. Over those years, we saw a good deal of each other. I came to know Harry well, and it was always a pleasure to be with him.

More than that, it was always special to be with him, for there was much of genius about him. Once in a while I would also see him passionate, when his sense of justice had been offended. I never saw him let himself down, or compromise his standards.

He was scrupulously attentive to his students, and endlessly boosted their confidence. He was invariably encouraging to his colleagues, commenting helpfully on potential publications, and suggesting fresh approaches. He and I conducted a number of honours seminars jointly, and he was wonderfully constructive in the lead he gave us all.

Before he came to Monash, I had known of Harry as a legend who was said to have come top in all his subjects. This was in philosophy circles at Melbourne University, when Monash was just opening its doors. I do not recall my first meeting with Harry, but I do recall hearing him ask questions and state positions at philosophy meetings from time to time at Melbourne. He always seemed to take philosophical discussions to a higher level. He did this for the rest of his life, with everyone he met.

I recall a day in late 1966 or early 1967 when Professor Rufus Davis asked me about Harry as a potential lecturer in Politics at Monash. While conscious that I did not know Harry very well, I recall feeling that I knew him well enough to have absolutely no doubt that it would be a tremendous coup if he could be attracted to join our Department. I imagine Davis would have invited Harry to join the Department regardless of anything I said. At the same time, I am proud to have been able to speak for Harry on that occasion in the strongest terms that I possibly could.

I cannot think of Harry as a colleague without thinking also of him for everything that he was. While his mind dug deep, he loved to laugh. He loved his family devotedly. He never mentioned he could play the piano until an evening after dinner when he asked his guests if they would like him to play, whereupon he took us into his soul with his virtuosity. His legacy of philosophy will endure, through the people he engaged with as well as the books he leaves behind.

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