News Room

William Arthur (Willy) Brown, 22 April 1945 – 1 August 2019

It is with great sadness that we convey the news that Emeritus Professor Willy Brown passed away unexpectedly on Thursday evening at his home near Cambridge.


Willy’s achievements in the industrial relations and labour economics fields were exceptional. For many decades Willy was an eminent scholar in these fields, not only in the United Kingdom but also internationally. He was arguably one of the most influential academics of his generation in both research and policy formulation. 


Willy was Emeritus Master of Darwin College and Emeritus Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Cambridge. He was previously the Director of the Industrial Relations Research Unit at the University of Warwick, which gained an international reputation for excellence and influence under his leadership, before becoming the Montague Burton Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Cambridge from 1985 to his retirement in 2012. 


Willy provided academic leadership through various senior administrative roles at Cambridge. He also served as President of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association from 1986 to 1989 and as a member of the Executive of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (formerly the International Industrial Relations Association) from 1989 to 1995.


Willy held a number of significant government appointments in the UK including foundation member of the Low Pay Commission from 1997-2007 and as a senior member of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council and Panel of Arbitrators.


Willy was the author of many seminal journal articles and books including Piecework Bargaining (1973), The Changing Contours of British Industrial Relations (1981), The Evolution of the Modern Workplace (2009) and The Emerging Industrial Relations of China (2017). In 2002 he was made Commander of the British Empire for services to employment relations.


Willy was an Honorary Professor at Renmin University in Beijing and was instrumental in bringing together international and Chinese scholars to examine developments in Chinese employment relations. In 2015 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sydney in recognition of his significant contributions to industrial relations scholarship and policy in Australia and internationally.


Notwithstanding Willy’s considerable academic accomplishments, his greatest impact may have been through his personal connections and friendships. Willy strived to make the world not only a better place but also a fairer place. In this respect he lived by example. Willy was a truly magnificent person with a unique capacity to speak with anyone on equal terms. He was so selfless, so humble, so generous, and so kind. Willy was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.


- Willy’s former doctoral students


4th August 2019