Hazel Johnstone

It is with profound sadness that we remember the life and work of our friend and colleague.



Tribute written by Professor Sumi Madhok, Head of Department:

Hazel was a dear friend of mine. 

She was a friend who stood firmly behind me and told me that I could be brave; or more to the point that I had no other choice but to be brave.

And, she knew all about being brave.

But then again, one does need to be brave to be a part of perhaps, the most well-known and internationally recognised academic departments in the world, if not in the UK. And, Hazel helped establish this world renowned department. Now almost going back to what is now 30 years ago, she became one of the two full-time staff deputed to the Gender studies. She often told a famous origin story, of how in the beginning there were two people and a dog (who belonged to someone also connected to the department) assigned to the department as full time members. The origin story she told was and is a metaphor for the fact that the department was set up on a shoestring budget and that this foundational financial precarity had come to be its constant feature, and, fate, even.

Hazel’s unique position as a founding member of the department meant that she engaged much of her energy in building it up. She soon became someone who built institutions and not only just themselves. She was famously fiercely protective of the department and saw herself as one of its institutional guardians. She wasn’t alone in this, though. The Gender Institute, now known as the Department of Gender Studies emerged from the extraordinary solidarity and commitment of many gender studies and feminist scholars spread across the LSE. And, that legacy of institutional solidarity continues today and is reflected in the work of the department’s Advisory Board, which works unstintingly to advocate for the department and for the interdisciplinary teaching and research in Gender Studies at the LSE.

I still have the very first email Hazel wrote to me. It was September 2007, and I had just been appointed as an LSE Fellow in the department. She had been a member of my interview panel. Her email simply said: Welcome aboard; and here is what you will need to do. And, then began a very long list of things to do! It was quintessentially Hazel: warm but always exact and always to the point. Over the years, she and I became friends and confidantes. Through her, I came to learn some more about what bravery looks like in the face of institutional indifference. Her bravery, however, was not all she shared with me. We shared wide ranging interests in books and music, although, I have to say it took quite a while for me to fully come to appreciate her musical tastes, which she described as mainly consisting of the genre of ‘wailing and screaming women’! She also shared with me her love of detective fiction, and of words and of writing—she was a prizewinning author, of course. And, together we shared a great love for the mighty outdoors. Through the years, she would send me photographs of all she held precious in her life. She loved taking photographs! We would often speak of her brother Ian’s little children; of her great and all-encompassing love of her beautiful nephew Nile, and for her wonderful and amazing step son Jamie.

In 2024, the department celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding. It’s hard to imagine, that Hazel, almost universally known as the ‘GI Guru’ wouldn’t be present to mark the occasion. She was the department’s foundational member, its institutional guardian, its archivist, historian and memory keeper. Her legacy lives on in the department that she helped build and it will be her story of two people and a  dog that we will narrate to all those who come aboard to build the department and the discipline of gender studies.

Tribute written by Mary Evans, Emeritus Leverhulme Professor:

The sudden death of Hazel Johnstone on March 14th has saddened a wide community of both current members of the LSE and its alumni. Many of those people will have known Hazel through her association with LSE which dates from her appointment in 1990 in the Geography department. Early in the 1990s Hazel was actively involved in what was then the Gender Institute. This became the Department of Gender Studies, for which Hazel was the Department Manager.

The continuity of Hazel’s connection with the academic study of Gender was such that for generations of staff and students there existed at the heart of the Department an apparently boundless resource of information (academic and otherwise) matched by faultless judgment and competence. The various sources of expertise on which Hazel could draw came from her own undergraduate and postgraduate years (at the University of Hull and the LSE) but also from time spent travelling and perhaps most importantly from wide, and constant, reading. To enter Hazel’s various offices was to enter, literally and metaphorically, a world of books.

That love of the written word, most particularly perhaps that of crime and detective fiction, infused Hazel’s professional life with a vitality towards the various issues and projects with which she engaged.  As an active collaborator she worked on the Handbook of Feminist Theory and Detecting the Modern and was always ready to engage creatively with academic work, be it of teachers or students. Those years of dedicated reading enabled her to communicate the real importance, possibility and power of the written word. It is often difficult for any author to assess accurately their own writing; in Hazel there was always a reader who not only valued that form of work but had the ability to assess it. Over the twenty years in which students and staff encountered Hazel there was a person who consistently endorsed the fundamental importance of engaged, rather than instrumental, academic research and publication.

All of these forms of affirmation were accomplished by Hazel with an endless generosity of spirit, warmth towards individuals and encouragement for junior colleagues whether academics or working in administration. It would be a misrepresentation to say that Hazel was not capable of severe, and scathing, judgments of those with whom she passionately disagreed. Such judgments were always expressed with an impressively economical use of the possibilities of contemptuous dismissal. But these unhappy people, expelled from her positive affirmation, were very few and far between and in general existed far beyond her immediate professional life. This allowed Hazel to exist with an endless optimism about the wider academic context in which she worked. In doing so, her example was exemplary in maintaining that essential belief in the vital, irreplaceable, merits of institutions which teach and attempt to understand.

Hazel once said of herself that she was ‘the proud member of the one 0’level and two degrees brigade’. That unorthodox route into the life which she eventually inhabited was an important part of her recognition of the importance of maintaining wider possibilities across all social contexts. Living did not have to follow the same path for everyone, but there were important ways in which collective association could help to ease those paths. In her role as an administrator, at the LSE and with the European Journal of Women’s Studies, Hazel’s presence was one which assured others of welcome and assistance.

For her many colleagues, for the hundreds of students who knew her and her close family, Hazel’s death is a sad loss. But it also a loss of an example of how to ‘be’, of how to fulfil every expectation of a given role and at the same time be so much more. As Hazel herself wrote, she made lifelong friends from her earliest days at the LSE; that group became ever more extensive.  For these many people those shared regrets at Hazel’s death are accompanied by gratitude at what she was able to contribute.

Tribute by Diane Perrons, Professor Emerita in Feminist Political Economy:

At the memorial to celebrate the life of Hazel Johnstone I was asked to reflect on ‘what it was like to be Hazel’s boss’. I am not sure that such a task is possible, it was much more a case of Hazel being my boss in a very kind, supportive and inobtrusive sort of way. The first thing Hazel said to me when I arrived at the Gender Institute (as the Department of Gender Studies was then called) in 2004 was ‘Don’t panic!!!’. The number of students had suddenly doubled from 45 to 82 and the only staff we had was myself as a half time Director with zero managerial experience, two full time members of faculty, one of whom was on leave, and Hazel. It was through Hazel’s outstanding commitment, dedication and ability to see the funny side of things that we survived.

It is amazing to consider how the Department of Gender Studies has evolved from the early 1990s when a small group of people from different departments across the LSE set up a seminar series on gender issues, with Hazel as a volunteer coordinator, to what it is today – a thriving department focusing on interdisciplinary transnational research and teaching, with alumni all over the world trying to create fairer and more inclusive societies. None of this would have been possible without Hazel. Hazel was the depository of all the information about the department, the expert on how to deal with the arcane workings of the wider institution and the glue that held everything together, especially through the periodic, or perhaps ongoing, turbulent times.

This role cannot be understated – the department has always been subject to pressure from the upper echelons as being too small, too complex, and too unwieldy with too many masters programmes. Addressing these concerns involved endless meetings, report writing and financial juggling, all of which required enormous patience and fortitude. Hazel, having seen it all before, was always able to smooth the waters and keep me calm. She even made me a cup of tea once on a particularly traumatic day – not something Hazel would ordinarily do. Likewise, while everyone in the department is very friendly and supportive, and always comes together to face external pressures in harmonious ways, there are many differences over theory, policy, methodology, pedagogy, teaching hours, and research time. Again, Hazel always calmed things and never took sides. I do not think Hazel cared very much over whether people were Marxist, Poststructuralist, Post- or Decolonial, whether they were first, second, third, fourth or whatever wave of feminism. She was always there for people and had what is probably a very rare ability to value everyone – staff and students equally. She was able to recognise different people’s concerns, to manage the internal and external affairs of the department and to keep everything under control – and it was this ability which has enabled the small seminar series of the early 1990s to become the thriving Department of Gender Studies it is today.

Hazel has left a tremendous legacy – she really will be missed. In thinking about what to say today, I thought ‘I will just check that with Hazel’, before realising she is no longer here. Perhaps she is though, in some way, and hoping as I do that others will take her legacy into the future.