I only had a few interactions with Seymour as a person, while I worked at UCL, but since leaving I’ve come across much more of his work as a scientist. I’m very sorry to hear there won’t be any more of it nor of him.
I first got to know Seymour in 1984 when he started his 3rd year undergraduate project at MSSL and I started by phd. I used to drive him from London to MSSL and back on a daily basis, later on with Duncan and others, until he got hold of his Dad’s second hand car. I got the impression that the commuting was a small price to pay for being able to live in London, even if Seymour and Duncan occasionally arrived at Clapham to be meet me only to have to return home because I overslept (late starts being normal in those days, as a student). On one occasion, I was driving Seymour and maybe Lars Ulander to MSSL and swerved to miss a duck in the road, with the result that we landed in a front garden, having gone through a hedge. Seymour liked to tell that story when I was around to hear it again (and again…). Unlike me, Seymour stayed on at UCL and built on his early research, developing an impressive global reputation in his field. He had a healthy initial scepticism towards research that is a sign of a good academic and he was always useful to talk to. My thoughts are with his friends and colleagues at UCL and especially with his family.
Seymour was my PhD supervisor. His enthusiasm for studying sea ice was infectious and I remember really looking forward to starting.
I always felt like Seymour was on my side and really wanted me to succeed. He would get excited when I came into his office with new results and we’d contemplate the next steps. He seemed very keen to give me every possible opportunity to develop as a scientist. At conferences he’d always make sure we all knew which sessions he’d be at and where everyone was going for dinner. I think someone said he was the ‘glue’ between people and I agree with that. Even outside work he was always interested in meeting new people and I remember him chatting away to friends of mine when we all happened to be in the same place. He also made me feel proud of my achievements.
Right from the beginning he talked a lot about Fiona and Imogen, he was extremely proud of you both. I remember him bringing in Imogen as a little baby and how he often described her as ‘really good fun’ - I think this was a way of not sounding too soft but the way he said it showed how much he felt for her. As time went on he talked about choosing her school with Fiona and then how she was finding it.
One of the most noticeable things about him was his generosity. If he could help you with something, he would. He gave and lent things without a second thought.
I’ve never been to a funeral like Seymour’s, so many people and so much emotion in the air. I learnt so much from him about science, generosity and loving your family and friends, passions and job. Seymour you inspired and made possible some of the most important experiences in my life and you will influence many more, thank you.
I don’t remember meeting Seymour but I know it was a long time ago, the photos of my older cousin holding a tubby baby and the date and inscription on the back prove that. I do however, have very early memories of the legendary oldest cousin of the family and the awe in which we all held this amazingly independent, clever, cheeky, unconventional and sometimes very annoying member of our gang.
A true mentor, my cousin “Simba” (a pet name given to him by his Gran which he hated and we therefore used mercilessly as kids) taught me so much ……… how to make beans on toast, the formula to create a never ending spirograph pattern on his new ZX81, how to get away with having the messiest bedroom ever and of course, the meaning of life (otherwise know as Radios 4’s Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy).
Later on these valuable lessons in life extended to, which tube stations didn’t require tickets, the best night bus routes, the fact that it was possible to go to work the next day having sat up all night listening to Pink Floyd and an interesting selection of beverages including the infamous “Baileys and Tequila” cocktail, not to mention, how to set up home in the back of an ancient beige Sierra when in between flats.
Ok, so that’s just some of the funny stuff, more difficult to put into words, is the generous, resilient, good humoured and sensitive side to my elder cousin - the stuff that one tends to take for granted until you think back over the years. The family celebrations and get togethers when he would just turn up from some far flung travels with gifts like my treasured Genesis album, bottles of champagne or some quirky new gadget that you never knew you needed. The hours sat in the pub putting the world to rights or the long trips, which he would share, to visit sick grandparents and his laid back nature which enabled him to see the good in everybody.
Sitting here in Egypt now, having finally gathered my thoughts, I am wondering why it’s been so hard to add some words to this wonderful and lasting tribute to my cousin Seymour. Perhaps it’s partly the distance that makes it all feel so unreal, the sadness of having been unable to join so many friends and family for a final send off but maybe most of all a regret that over the past few years we have seen so little of each other.
I didn’t really know so much about the important work that Seymour was doing until now reading all his tributes and obituaries and more sadly, I only saw a couple of times what a wonderful and doting father he was to Imogen. I hope in years to come, I might be able to make up for that and be able share with her more stories and memories of her lovely Dad.
Someone once said “It’s the lives we encounter that make life worth living” - Seymour you were definitely one of those lives. My thoughts are with Imogen, Fiona and my aunt Veronica.
My wife and I, Sheelagh, Seymour’s uncle and aunt, have just returned from attending Seymour’s funeral and wake. As we have lived in the United States for the past 30 years or so, our contacts with Seymour have been rather limited during that time. And, sadly, we barely know Fiona and Imogen. We did know, of course that Seymour was undertaking very important work on measuring the Artic ice caps, and we knew he had recently been appointed a Professor at UCL. We had even caught the occasional glimpse of him on TV in America. But it was real revelation today to see the incredible turn-out of his friends and professional colleagues who came to bid him farewell. We had no idea that he had inspired so much love and respect from those he knew, and we are most grateful to those who spoke so movingly about him today at the funeral service.
While we have seen little of Seymour as a man (and almost nothing of Fiona and Imogen) we had a lot to do with him when he was growing up. We can claim, I believe, to hold the distinction of having been his very first babysitters in those weeks after his birth in September 1963. We also want to share a story about him, which we were reminded of when reading his poem on Flying that was included in the service. (We did not even know he wrote poetry as a young boy). Anyway, our story illustrates his courage and joie de vivre even as a very young child of four when we accompanied him and his parents, Bill and Veronica, on a holiday to the Costa Brava. The plane encountered very frightening turbulence over the Pyrenees and at one point it suddenly dropped what felt like several hundred feet. All the passengers were completely stunned and not a sound was to be heard except, suddenly, Seymour screamed with laughter and cried out “Do it again”! Whereupon, the turbulence stopped and everyone let out a sigh of relief. So at four, Seymour was a leader and already bringing comfort and cheer to the world!
Seymour Laxon was a colleague of mine at UCL. On the few occasions we were at meetings together, he would always whisper a pithy one-liner which always made me giggle! His untimely death, at such a young age, is a loss to not only his family, but all his friends and colleagues. A shining new star has appeared in the heavens, but a bright light has gone out on Earth. Sleep well, my friend. Hugs! Trea xx
Simply a cool, chilled out guy and one of my favourite lecturers in my final year at UCL. Fair bit of snobbery at UCL but Seymour is as down to earth as they come and I loved him for it!!! You’ll be missed RIP!
I have been so very moved by the tributes and tales from friends, family and colleagues – Seymour was a special person; more so than I often gave him credit for. We argued more than was probably good for us but we also loved each other dearly, and trusted each other absolutely. We shared the same values and rarely clashed over the big things in life. Daily – hourly – I am brought up short by yet another reminder that he has gone. My biggest comfort is Imogen – I will be strong for her and help her to know her daddy as well as I can. This tribute site will help her to know aspects of Seymour that I wasn’t even aware of and I am so grateful to all for sharing their memories.
I want to write more here in time, but for now this is all I can muster.
I got to know Seymour through the Avon Outdoor Activities Club - despite living in London he came along on trips with Fiona - often arriving in very late on a Friday night, sometimes just catching last orders, often complaining about the traffic!! He loved the outdoors and it was fun having him along on trips, the hassle of the Friday night journey quickly forgotten.
I also remember spending a lovely bonfire weekend with Fiona and Seymour, with them showing us their favorite sights in London, and of course their local.
Seymour was one of life’s great guys and it’s so hard to believe he’s gone, a tragic loss. My thoughts go out to Fiona, Imogen and the rest of his family.
I remember Seymour from our first year at university (and from parties, curries and walks since). It is clear from the entries on this page that Seymour has gone on to be a very successful academic, inspirational teacher, individualist and rare spirit. I will remember his smile and integrity. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.
I have only met Seymour a few times, at family gatherings. I remember best an evening with him and Fiona in Hong Kong. They’d been travelling in China and it was a lovely surprise to get their phone call and see them here. Seymour’s stories and comments about China were well-observed, and he seemed open to the strangeness of the place in a way that not everyone is. I very much enjoyed his and Fiona’s company.
I am so shocked and sad to hear this news. Wishing strength and sending love to Fiona and Imogen.
For some small children and the religiose, their “invisible friends” can supply a subject to blame when confronted by adverse events. I am a materialist, atheist scientist, so all I have is raw pain and unattached fury and outrage. Where there was presence, now there is absence, and we have a Laxon-shaped hole in our lives, through the operation of blind luck.
This admirable website serves as a vehicle for expressions of condolence, consolation and ventilation; but as Katharine remarked on Friday night in the JB, Imogen is young, and in years to come, may appreciate the value of these recollections in helping to show, in some form, what kind of person was her dad; and from that perspective, I attempt this small, low-resolution, monochrome and partial view of a complex person.
I can’t say that we were “domestic” friends. We didn’t holiday together, we weren’t in and out of each other’s houses every five minutes; but we did work closely over the last decade or so, and it was way more fun than with a “vanilla” colleague. I started work as a scientist in the 1980’s and although Seymour was “around” (with long hair), it wasn’t until the start of a NERC Arctic research programme in the late 1990’s that we first met. In our collaborations between then and now, we raised millions in grant funds, and since we were at the PI stage in our careers, the production of proposals was our major creative interaction; more so than actually writing papers. Alongside this, most of our time together was spent at UK and international meetings, either presenting results, or helping to shape the Arctic research agenda.
To ask if he was brilliant is not meaningful. We do not need relativity, quantum mechanics or even intermediate vector bosons to study the physics of the natural environment, which is based on fluid dynamics, solid mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism and the like: nineteenth-century stuff, in principle. The intellectual challenge lies in the system’s complexity, and the personal qualities required to make headway in our chosen subject are no different from those for any art or science: insight, to comprehend the status quo; imagination, to see the potential for progress; and creativity, to realise the potential. The Arctic and Antarctic are cogs in the climate system; Laxon was a measurements guy, and as such, another kind of cog; but being possessed of insight, imagination and creativity, he was a high-torque cog.
Laxon was possessed of what seemed to me to be a near-demonic level of energy. Never do one thing if you could do two; nor two, if three. If a talk was boring, work on data analysis; if the boring talk was still up and the programme running, deal with correspondence, do some editing; if it’s the coffee break, nattering took second place to popping out for a fag, and a quick Skype home to burble at Imogen and chat to Fiona: the fifth-floor balcony at WHOI permitted both, for example. There was never time to waste: pre-Imogen, checking in to hotels meant: sign in, go to room, drop bags, go to bar, consume beer. Laggards would show up and dinner would be sought, with beer. Followed by beer. Suggesting where to go was simplified by the smartphone with GPS and maps; Laxon would say “it’s a few minutes walk”; he’d usually be in front, not looking where he was going because his nose was pressed into the phone; and I (and others, I guess) would be struggling to keep up because his legs appeared to function like a long pair of motorised dressmaker’s shears. After the arrival of Imogen, the schedule underwent one significant modification: between “drop bags” and “go to bar” was “call home”.
Work hard, play hard; invigorating and fun, but hardly unique. We were attracted professionally to each other because we possessed complementary skills and expertise, so were able thereby to expand our horizons; and we worked well together because we shared, to some degree, a certain outlook on life and work, so we enjoyed each other’s company. In setting out to produce this sketch, I needed to rationalise what made Laxon unusual. I derive my conclusion from our experience of writing proposals, because while our different areas of scientific expertise were at comparable levels, he was better at writing proposals.
One would not describe him with terms such as “emollient”; but his trust, once won, was unqualified; and his subsequent commitment, unreserved. He would work with you and for you; a joint enterprise, to ensure its success, or its best chance of success, would receive all the attention required. We spent hours, days, weeks even, with Skype open, hacking. Trust and commitment imply a generous heart. Soft-centred Seymour; who’da thought? Like one of those sweets (“candies”, for any trans-Atlantic cousins) with an annoyingly hard, tacky, filling-removing exterior and a gooey interior.
I conclude with a very small recollection. Much travelling and many meetings meant many breakfasts. I never knew anyone who ate a fried egg like Laxon. There was no cutting of the white, or dipping of toast into the yolk. The egg was stabbed with the fork, torn with the knife, and the resulting yolky slop gobbled.
Laxon, il miglior fabbro. Damn you for leaving us.
I remember the social Seymour although I was aware that there was a renowned scientist hidden behind his sense of fun and bonhomie. It was not until I saw this site that I realised the magnitude of his achievements.
I have known Seymour for 15 years and in that time spent many, many, happy hours in his company both indoors and outdoors, on mountainsides and in pubs – although it was not always easy to keep up with him in either of these environments!
He was a true ‘one of a kind’ and it is hard to accept that he is no longer with us. It is a measure of his character that so many people, me included, have so many positive memories of time spent with him.
I always remember him as being very generous, except on one occasion when his competitive streak got the better of him while playing Risk at the cabin in Dolgellau. Alison was playing for the first time and managed to beat both Seymour and Fiona despite their increasing collaboration as she surged ahead!
David Howard, Bristol
I first came to know Seymour through the Avon Outdoor Activities Club. He had boundless energy (once raised from his bed), always sprinting ahead on the walks and leading the way with the evening entertainment into the early hours. I remember him as a keen climber back then. He was always generous with his time and knowledge, encouraging me and others with their climbing. I am forever grateful for taking that time. He and Fiona came to our wedding and showed his, (to us, unknown) talent with the camera. He caught the best photos of all our friends, set out in a wonderful collage. Very thoughtful.
Most of all, when I think of him I see him laughing.
I was saddened to hear about Seymour’s death, my condolences to Fiona, Imogen and Seymour’s family and many friends and colleagues.
I first met Seymour when I joined NERC’s EO programme about 5 years ago. I always found him to be kind, witty and affable, and a brilliant and passionate scientist who cared deeply about his work and the environment. I had the ‘pleasure’ of dancing with (a very drunk) Seymour at the ceilidh at the NCEO Science Meeting last year, to this day I’m still not sure what dance Seymour was doing, it certainly wasn’t the same one at the rest of us, but he seemed blissfully happy skipping round the dance floor to his own wee world it was impossible to be upset with him – and that’s how I’d like to remember Seymour as a happy, free-spirited, truly unique man. RIP Seymour.