Full length tribute to Pete Newbon

A tribute

LAAS Director Pete Newbon

Below is the full length version of the tribute posted in the Jewish Chronicle. You can add your own thoughts & memories to his tribute page here, and you can read this tribute published by Jewish News.

Pete Newbon

The outpouring of love for Pete Newbon in the last week has been overwhelming. If you saw all the beautiful tributes dominating social media you would imagine that Pete was a larger-than-life public figure or some household name that you should have recognised.  But he wasn’t.  He was a quiet, understated 38year old lecturer in Victorian and Romantic Literature.  A man of fierce intellect who never used his knowledge in a brash or showy manner but was quietly insightful, witty but always measured.  

A man of fierce intellect who never used his knowledge in a brash or showy manner

Pete was a director of Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS), passionate about challenging antisemitism wherever he saw it.  One of his first on-line engagements with the Jewish activist community was with Judith Ornstein, creator of the ‘Whitewashed’ and ‘Forced Out’ projects, in 2017.  She shared that she believed Pete was “a lamedvovnik - one of 36 righteous individuals - and a blessing on us all.”  She had followed him on twitter and invited him to join a network of like-minded people.  “You know, I think I’ve been looking for this group for the last two years” he replied.  They talked about Pete’s family roots in Latvia and what they had experienced during the pogroms and the Holocaust, “I just never thought I’d live to see this sort of thing - especially not on the Left” he shared with Judith.  It was that sense of disbelief that motivated Pete in his activism.

In reading all the heartfelt messages and tributes to him over the last week, the overriding sense that came from them was of a kind and generous man who made people smile.  Bryn Jones, a friend of Pete’s when they studied together at King’s College, Cambridge, recalls first encountering him when they were moving into rooms, with a rucksack, a guitar and, surprisingly, a rapier!  But he shared that his favourite memory was of sitting at the King’s bar, ‘Pete suddenly began singing Paul McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen A Face’.  It was so joyful and perfect that I couldn’t stop smiling about it for days.”

a kind and generous man who made people smile

Euan Philipps, spokesman for LAAS, recalled the time in August 2020, when he and Emma Picken, another LAAS director, were embroiled in a particularly difficult battle on social media, that Pete, alongside the other Jewish directors of LAAS, organised a letter of thanks and appreciation for all the work Euan, Emma and LAAS founder, Denny Taylor, had done. “It was totally unexpected but it made us all feel so incredibly proud”.  It was these quiet acts of kindness and solidarity that were a mark of Pete’s personality.  Alex Hearn talked about ‘all the stories that have come out about how he offered to help people privately, without prompting.  He was an intellectual who never used his intellect to make people feel small and always saw people as fellow humans.’  It was that generosity of spirit and ability to connect with people that prompted a group of friends to set up, what was casually referred to as The Pete Newbon Appreciation Group, but officially named Je Suis Pete, after he left twitter last May.  The group, which at it’s inception numbered about 100 participants, was formed to offer Pete support and including people from all over the country, most of whom had never even met Pete in real life but all had their own story to tell about how he had impacted their lives.  “We all absolutely adored Pete, we’re totally heartbroken. We are all going to meet up soon to drink to Pete, some of us have never met each other but we’ve been chatting for 8 months solidly because of him” 

It was that generosity of spirit and ability to connect with people that prompted a group of friends to set up, what was casually referred to as The Pete Newbon Appreciation Group

Pete taught at Northumbria University and one of his students, Ayisha Ahmed described how she had always struggled with poetry until she encountered Pete.  She told of his ‘adoration of poetry, the vast contextual knowledge he had and his enthusiasm to teach’.  She went on to say that she now writes her own poetry due to ‘Pete’s inspiring intelligence.  I would like his wife and his girls to know how often I have thought of Pete recently and how I wish I had gotten the chance to sincerely thank him for the life altering teaching he provided me with.’

Fellow academic, David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer, Goldsmith’s, University of London, added this, “Pete’s work on social media was effective, funny, warm and clear; his sophisticated intelligence, his straightforward loveliness and his knowledge shone through. He knew that what he was doing was real, and significant; and he knew that the community of people with whom he was doing it was real too. Pete could see what needed to be done and he had the moral courage to do it.”

As we amble through the twists and turns of life, especially after the last two years, the best we can hope for is that we have a positive impact on at least a few of the people we meet along the way.  Pete Newbon achieved so much more that that. He inspired us, made us laugh, shared himself with us, his friends and colleagues, with an openness and honesty that is rarely experienced these days.  Emma Picken noted that “his absence leaves a vast hole. It will never be the same without you.’  A sentiment echoed by so many. Our hearts go out to Rachel, his wife, his three spirited young daughters and his mother and sister.  The magnitude of their loss is unimaginable.  We thank them all for sharing Pete with us - we are all better people for having known him.