Pete Newbon, the anti-racism warrior with a radiant soul

One academic said in his work 'his sophisticated intelligence, his straightforward loveliness and his knowledge shone through'


On 15 January, Pete Newbon, a Jewish academic, warrior against racism and much loved father-of-three, died suddenly, aged 38.

A quick scan of Twitter could leave you with the impression he was a major public figure.
Beautiful tributes filled up social media. Tears were shed by many.

But he was far from a household name. He was a quiet, understated lecturer on Victorian and Romantic literature.

The reason for the remarkable reaction to his death was, to quote a colleague of his, the fact he “saw people as fellow humans”.

One of his students at Northumbria University, Ayisha Ahmed, described struggling with poetry until she encountered Mr Newbon.

She told the JC about his “adoration of poetry, the vast contextual knowledge he had and his enthusiasm to teach”.

She went on to say that she now writes her own poetry thanks to “Pete’s inspiring intelligence.

"I would like his wife and his girls to know how often I have thought of Pete recently and how I wish I had got the chance to sincerely thank him for the life altering teaching he provided me with.”

Aside from his university teaching, Mr Newbon was a director of Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS), the advocacy group set up in response to the antisemitism crisis that exploded under former party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Euan Philipps, spokesman for LAAS, recalled the time in August 2020 when he and fellow activist Emma Picken were embroiled in a particularly difficult battle on social media, Pete organised a letter of thanks for all the work Euan, Emma and the group’s founder, Denny Taylor, had done.

Mr Philipps said: “It was totally unexpected but it made us all feel so incredibly proud.”

These quiet acts of kindness and solidarity were a mark of Mr Newbon’s personality. LAAS co-director Alex Hearn talked about “all the stories that have come out about how he offered to help people privately, without prompting. He always saw people as fellow humans.”

Bryn Jones, a university friend of Pete from their time at King’s College, Cambridge, recalls first meeting him when they were moving into their rooms. Pete had a rucksack, a guitar and, surprisingly, a rapier.

But he said that his favourite memory was of sitting at the King’s College bar.

“Pete suddenly began singing Paul McCartney’s I’ve Just Seen A Face. It was so joyful and perfect that I couldn’t stop smiling about it for days.”

Fellow academic, David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “Pete’s work on social media was effective, funny, warm and clear; his sophisticated intelligence, his straightforward loveliness and his knowledge shone through.

“He knew that what he was doing was real, and significant; and he knew that the community of people with whom he was doing it was real too. Pete could see what needed to be done and he had the moral courage to do it.”

A spokeserson for LAAS said: “The best most of us can hope for is that we have a positive impact on at least a few of the people we meet in life.

“Pete achieved so much more than that. He inspired us, made us laugh, and shared his thoughts with us — his friends and colleagues —with an openness and honesty that is rarely experienced these days.

"Our hearts go out to Rachel Hewitt, his wife, his three young daughters and his mother and sister. The magnitude of their loss is unimaginable.”

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