Academic colleagues from City's Department of International Politics publish a memoria of Rosemary Hollis (1952-2020).

Published (Updated )

Tall and slender, with piercing blue eyes that revealed a fearless and sharp wit, Rosemary Hollis was a powerful figure in every sense, as a scholar, as an educator, as an influencer. Her presence filled any room with awe, laughter and a touch of fear.

Rosemary earned her doctorate at George Washington University in the USA. Upon returning to the UK she pursued an illustrious career in the policy world, leading research programmes for Chatham House and RUSI on the Middle East, North Africa and European and American interests in the region. She became an advisor to governments and policy makers internationally, and a favourite commentator on the BBC and other international media. In 2008 she came to City, University of London. She advanced our internationalisation programme through her extensive experience and first class scholarship in the fields of diplomacy and policy analysis across the Middle East.

Whilst at City, she took the helm of the Olive Tree Scholarship programme, an initiative for talented Israeli and Palestinian students taking a degree at City. The programme required these students to take part in an intensive journey to develop a better understanding of each other and work towards a shared future in the region, something Rosemary was deeply committed to. She gave her heart and soul to the programme, which flourished under her leadership and nurtured the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian change-makers. In recent years her co-facilitator was the award-winning poet, writer and director Damian Gorman, who used creative writing and storytelling as tools of dialogue and understanding.

Some of the themes discussed were then addressed with high profile diplomats, journalists and researchers in the public seminars of the Olive Tree Middle East Forum. Rosemary also maintained her engagements with a number of research and policy networks and organisations, such as the Council for British Research in the Levant or the interdisciplinary project Conflict in Cities. She only recently published her latest book, Surviving the Story: The Narrative Trap in Israel and Palestine (Red Hawk Books, 2019), her spiritual testament to the direct experience of working with young people involved in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and its narratives.

Our Department of International Politics was enormously lucky to host her as a Professor of Middle East Policy Studies until 2018. Our Undergraduate, Postgraduate, and Doctoral students simply adored her for the passion she took in her creative teaching, especially on the postgraduate course in Diplomacy and Strategy, her thorough comments to their essays and dissertations, and the sincere interest she took in their intellectual and personal development, as well as their wellbeing. Former Olive Tree scholar Yoav Galai remembers Rosemary as someone who “worked on the big picture, on policy and interests and the mechanics of political bargaining, but she never lost focus of what was to her the most important thing: real people and the mess that they struggle with”. Her last PhD supervisee, Seila Panizzolo, described her as, “the most encouraging and inspirational teacher one could wish for, who gave me support until the very end.”

As a colleague you could not but respect and admire Rosy – as she liked to be called by her friends – not only for her vision and vivid intellect but also, and perhaps most importantly, for her kindness, reliability, and generosity, for how she treated those around her with dignity and respect, and for always seeking a just outcome.

Her mind was inquisitive, critical, in search of innovation, whether in her teaching or in her interdisciplinary research endeavours. Her determination and courage, which sometimes made people feel uncomfortable around Rosy, simultaneously constituted an aura that made her a role model and a mentor for many of us, especially, but not only, young women at the beginning of their academic careers.

Truly English in her manners, outspoken like an American, but with a Middle Eastern heart, she was beautiful. A true lady with style and an undeclared feminist, who found her place and cemented it in male-dominated fields. It was also her warmth, wit and genuine interest in others that attracted many towards her. Very private and averse to compliments, she was also extremely loving, having closely cared for her mother until she passed away peacefully of old age.

Rosemary’s passing was untimely and yet true to her style: she knew when it was time to let go of something, to change direction, to close the door, always with poise and dignity. And so she left us quickly, without fuss, alone. But, as we discovered in the last few days, while reconnecting her story and her networks, she has left us an enormous legacy of connections, of friends, and of living life with purpose. She will be sorely missed by all of us.

Sara Silvestri and Leonie Fleischmann on behalf of the Department of International Politics, City, University of London.

An online book to commemorate Rosy can be found here.