Oxford Brookes professor John O'Connor has died. Donald Sloan, head of the Oxford school of hospitality management at Oxford Brookes University, pays tribute to his predecessor, who passed away on 28 July 2014.
As befits a professor of hospitality management, John O'Connor was a welcoming and convivial character, known for his generous support and encouragement of others. My first encounter with John, more than 20 years ago, was over a long and enjoyable dinner in Glasgow, before I joined the team at Oxford Brookes University. He soon became a friend, as well as a source of wise and much appreciated advice.
Without doubt, John O'Connor was one of the most significant figures to have worked in hospitality management education. Under his leadership, Oxford Polytechnic's department of hotel and catering management (subsequently the Oxford School of Hospitality Management, Oxford Brookes University) secured an international reputation built on the quality of its educational provision, strong links with industry and influential publications from its academic staff.
John worked tirelessly to create a learning environment in which students could develop their intellectual capacity, whilst also building essential practical skills. He believed that students should be constantly exposed to industry, not only by gaining work experience, but also by meeting and interacting with successful alumni. His distinctive approach fuelled students' passion for hospitality, ensuring that the majority would pursue rewarding careers in our sector.
He recognised that the success of his Department was dependent on attracting and retaining staff who were committed to students, who were supportive of each other and who took pride in their colleagues' achievements. In doing so he created a positive organisational culture; something that lives on to this day.
In 1992, Oxford Polytechnic secured University status. John was very well-placed to manage this important period of transition. He understood what was required of an academic department if it was to flourish in the fast changing higher education scene. For example, as founding editor of the International Journal of Hospitality Management he built strong relationships with academics worldwide, and in doing so further developed the department's profile. He capitalised on his international links, enabling students to undertake periods of exchange with partners overseas, first with Florida International University, and subsequently numerous others.
John's influence extended beyond Oxford. His support for academic research, his efforts to create a professional community of practice across many UK universities and his close links with industry, greatly enhanced the credibility of hospitality management education. This reflected one of his central ambitions - to ensure that higher education in our field is robust, that it is fit for purpose and, ultimately, that it is well respected. His success in this regard will be one of his most significant legacies.
Since John passed away I have received many messages from former colleagues, graduates and friends. They pay tribute to the value of his professional contribution and, of course, to the warmth of his personality.
By Donald Sloan