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Dr Finbarr Livesey

Obituary of Dr Finbarr Livesey 1972-2019

Dr Finbarr Livesey tribute



Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies & Fellow of Magdalene College 

As this tribute is posted, we know that many different people will be feeling immense sadness at the untimely loss of our friend and colleague Dr Finbarr Livesey who died of cancer on 2nd September 2019.

Yet grief is also a collective experience, and is alleviated a little if we recognise the uniqueness and achievements of the person we have lost. And it is in that spirit that this tribute seeks to honour Finbarr and celebrate the gifts he brought to his colleagues, his students, and to the world of public policy scholarship.

It is hard to come to terms with Finbarr passing away in part because he was a larger-than-life figure. To start with, there was his voice. It had both a timbre and volume that filled not just a single room but resonated through an entire building. As he jokingly reflected on many occasions, he would have made a hopeless secret agent because he could never say anything without everyone hearing within a mile radius.

And what a wonderful voice it was. Full of life, humour and intelligence – and occasional outrage at the state of the world. His students will no doubt remember that voice fondly – even when it was being used to explain a finer point about statistical methods.

Finbarr was integral to the development of the M.Phil in Public Policy (MPP) programme at Cambridge University which started in 2013. He served first as its deputy director, working with the inaugural head Professor David Howarth, and then became director himself when the programme was in its infancy, playing a foundational role as it became one of the leading programmes of its kind within the UK, and indeed globally.  Its distinctive composition and signature features – teaching students high-level statistics as well as policy analysis, political science and ethics, requiring them to complete a work placement, and ensuring that entrants were in possession of professional experience as well as outstanding academic credentials – reflected his own thinking about the skill-set of a twenty-first century policy-maker. And Finbarr gave himself entirely to the programme’s mission and ethos. He loved working with students, debating public policy questions, and testing theories about how policy works. His own training at the Kennedy School infused the thinking vision which he brought to the MPP.

This is a legacy that will not fade. It is carried forward by every alumnus of the MPP programme – past and future – who is applying the skills they were taught at Cambridge in governments and organisations in different parts of the world.

Finbarr was also a fine scholar. Most recently, he completed a major monograph – From Global to Local: The Making of Things and the End of Globalisation. This advanced an  original and important argument, showing that economic globalisation does not inevitably lead to things being made elsewhere, because technological changes tend gradually to restore the rationale for local manufacturing. The book showcases the huge breadth of knowledge and expertise which he brought to his research. His final publication was a working paper he published with the Bennett Institute which offers a fascinating analysis of the potential for publicly owned genomic databases linked to health records.

Before joining POLIS Finbarr had worked for a number years at the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge, where he also completed his doctorate on value chains. He remained deeply interested in the challenges posed by technological transformation and considered public policy not just in its technical senses, but also in terms of the economic and political forces which shaped and limited its development.

Finbarr was above all things a devoted colleague and friend. He loved working in POLIS and engaging with academics from the various disciplinary fields within it. He will be greatly missed by colleagues here, and at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy which he was delighted to see come to fruition, having himself been an active proponent of a major inter-disciplinary centre of this kind at Cambridge.

None of us will forget his ready smile, infectious enthusiasm, booming corridor greetings, and readiness to offer support and lend a hand. These qualities underlie the many memories of him that we shall cherish.

We are grateful to have had the chance to know Finbarr as friend and colleague. He made an enormous contribution to public policy at Cambridge and to POLIS, and his endeavours will not be forgotten.

Our heartfelt condolences go to Finbarr’s family.


Dennis Grube and Michael Kenny


University of Cambridge 



There is a comment section below where staff and students are able to leave their memories of Finbarr which will be passed on to the family. Please login to leave a comment, thank you. says:
Sep 04, 2019 10:23 AM

Deeply saddened to hear this news, heartfelt condolences to the family.

Miss Sylvana Tomaselli says:
Sep 04, 2019 10:30 AM

Such sad news. Please accept my heartfelt condolences. Sylvana Tomaselli says:
Sep 04, 2019 10:54 AM

I thought of Finbarr as a mentor and a friend, he was incredibly kind to me when I first came to the department as a somewhat confused PhD student. A constant source of encouragement and advice, he seemed to like my ideas, gave me confidence and was just a lovely, decent, kind man. I was dismayed when I found out he was ill, and have missed his advice over these months. I will continue to miss him. My sincere condolences to his wife and children, I cannot imagine their loss.

Dr Glen Rangwala says:
Sep 04, 2019 11:04 AM

Finbarr's quickfire wit, and his booming laughter - often, it felt, rattling the foundations of the building - made him an instant hit among all the staff and students here. His dedication to developing the MPP was fantastic to see.

Prof Lawrence Hamilton says:
Sep 04, 2019 11:07 AM

Finbarr was a wonderful, wise, warm and welcoming presence in POLIS. He will be missed in so many ways. My heartfelt condolences to his family and close friends. Lawrence says:
Sep 04, 2019 11:14 AM

Beautifully captured. Takes me back to our policy days with Fin that he filled with all that you describe. True, the legacy will not fade. Heartfelt condolences to Fin's family and friends.

Professor Christopher Hill says:
Sep 04, 2019 12:41 PM

When we started down the Public Policy path there was a great deal of uncertainty and too much work for too few hands. Finbarr put his shoulder to the wheel without hesitation and despite his own need for time to write and to pursue his career needs he made the key contribution to getting the new programme going. He was a simply a huge asset in every respect, and a pleasure to be with. My deepest sympathy to Finbarr's wife and family. says:
Sep 04, 2019 03:28 PM

Thank you for this wonderful tribute. As a colleague his laughter, spark, and warmth were unmatched and helped overcome plenty of stressful situations. His commitment to students and to improving public policy was an inspiration. This is a great loss for the MPP and Cambridge as a whole. My deepest condolences to his family.

Dr Jude Browne says:
Sep 05, 2019 08:03 PM

Finbarr’s sharp intellect, joyful sense of humour and humane convictions will be sorely missed by us all. My very deepest condolences to Charlotte, their children and wider family. Jude says:
Sep 05, 2019 10:52 PM

This is a great lost for the academia and the MPP in particular. I had the opportunity to meet Finbarr and his commitment to his profession and the students was laudable. He will be very much missed in POLIS and the MPP. My deepest condolences to his wife, children and all his beloved ones.

Dr Pieter van Houten says:
Sep 06, 2019 11:53 AM

This is a terrible loss, first and foremost to Finbarr's family and friends, but also our department. As the tribute on this page perfectly captures, Finbarr was a great colleague who made the department a nicer and better place to work in. His contributions to the MPP programme and POLIS more broadly were invaluable, and we will greatly miss him.

Cerys Thomas says:
Sep 06, 2019 11:55 AM

A beautifully written tribute to a man who was always larger than life. He will be greatly missed on the MPP programme and in POLIS says:
Sep 06, 2019 08:11 PM

He not only had a great mind, but also a very big heart. He spoke so lovingly of his children and family, and he will be forever in the minds and hearts of all those whose paths he crossed.

Thank you for being a wonderful supervisor, you will always be so dearly missed. says:
Sep 07, 2019 06:36 AM

Finbarr was my PhD supervisor, and his gracious and welcoming correspondence helped me make the decision to come to Cambridge. He was an unfailingly kind and encouraging mentor, and always ready to apply his formidable intellect and boundless curiosity to difficult problems.

I will miss what ought to have been decades more of his scholarship and friendship. My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. says:
Sep 07, 2019 10:22 AM

Finbarr welcomed me so warmly to POLIS when I arrived in 2018, even though he was already unwell. My heart goes out to his family and friends. He'll be very much missed. says:
Sep 08, 2019 12:36 PM

I was greatly saddened to hear that we have lost Finbarr. Out of the professors and mentors I have had at Cambridge, he was one of the few that left a lasting mark on my life and in many ways determined who I am today. Finbarr taught me stuff that I use to this today at work and elsewhere. He was an inspiration as a mentor and a teacher, and someone I would aspire to become like. I am so glad that I knew him, and hope that I can honour the memory of him by following his advice and his example. My deep condolences to Finbarr’s family and all those who loved and respected him.