Professor Aileen Stockdale was a leading light in her fields of interest including internal migration and rural communities, with research that commanded the highest academic respect. She was a long standing Fellow of the Society and supporter of PopGRG.
Aileen was, since 2006, based at Queen’s University Belfast and prior to that was lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. Aileen’s work focused on rural migration and, in particular, the lives of people in marginal landscapes where there had been much emigration. The work focused on those in rural areas, and the new lives of those who left. Her latest ESRC funded project Staying in the Rural focussed directly on immobility and had collaborators from the Netherlands and Germany.
Professor Greg Keefe, Head of the School of Natural and Built Environment at QUB, has emphasised how much Aileen will be missed as a major part of the community in the School, both within and beyond her discipline. He notes that Aileen was a committed feminist and worked with many of the younger female staff to help and support them develop in their careers. She was exceptionally generous with her time in this, both formally and informally.
In recent years Aileen contributed to initiatives of the Population Geography Research Group. She co-authored (with Nigel Walford) the chapter Lifestyle and Internal Migration in the Research Group’s edited collection Internal Migration: Geographical Perspectives and Processes (edited by Smith, Finney, Walford and Halfacree, 2015, Routlegde) and in 2020 took part as an interviewee in the PopGeog (Hi)Stories project.
As part of the project, Aileen encouraged Population Geographers to ‘think big’. She remarked: “I think there is something in population geography going forward… positioning themselves more as a central cog for inter-disciplinary studies… you know you’re already beginning to see it, you’re already seeing it, you know some successes in terms of the health agenda, transport, in terms of even employment, labour economics, you know all of those things you begin to see population geographers having a role within… So maybe that’s the future, to apply knowledge to those bigger questions”.
Many of you will have worked with Aileen, or engaged with her at population or rural gatherings. On behalf of PopGRG I extend condolences to you, and to her friends and family at this sad and difficult time. As a way to remember we share below some words from two of Aileen’s close colleagues, Darren Smith and Gemma Catney. As part of the academy let us keep Aileen’s spirit alive in our intellectual endeavours, and the manner in which we undertake then.
Written by Nissa Finney on behalf of Population Geography Research Group
A message from Professor Darren Smith (Loughborough University)
Aileen's passing will be felt as a huge loss by many colleagues across the globe, both professionally and personally, and this is a marker of Aileen's impressive stamp on the international academy. I have experienced first-hand on many occasions, during our co-editorship of Population, Space and Place and overseas trips on the Rural Quad conferences, the special qualities that made Aileen a leading light in her fields of interest. Her long list of novel outputs on rural migration and retirement have consistently been of the highest quality since the early 1990s and have changed how we research, understand, and think about rural migration. Aileen's work majestically spans the interface between Population Studies and Rural Studies, and I know she was very proud of this position in the academy, as well as being a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences. Only a couple of weeks ago at our editorial meeting, Aileen was brimming with excitement and enthusiasm about her on-going research project, and new international collaborators from Population and Rural Studies.
As a person, Aileen was kind, caring, and deeply passionate about supporting and mentoring early career researchers and her doctoral students. She was also fun and possessed a wonderful sense of humour - often with a smile on her face and laughing with others. Aileen's other passion was Leeds United - one which we shared and which always seemed to be the topic to end our meetings. We have lost a special colleague and academic who has provided a remarkable body of scholarly work and many wonderful memories. RIP.
A message from Dr Gemma Catney (Queen’s University Belfast)
The sudden passing of our dear friend and colleague, Professor Aileen Stockdale, has left us reeling with shock and sadness. Aileen has left a very big hole, and we will miss her in so many ways.
It is incredibly difficult - impossible - to summarise what the loss of Aileen will mean to so many in the close-knit communities of Population and Rural Geography. Below are a few ways in which I will remember Aileen; memories that others will no doubt share.
Aileen was fiercely intelligent, full of excellent ideas, energetic and enthusiastic, and always generous with her time. She was dedicated to the mentoring of junior staff and PhD students, and enjoyed seeing new academics develop in their careers. She gave diligent advice with openness and honesty, and had a knack for hitting the nail on the head. Yet she was also incredibly humble. Aileen loved a laugh and enjoyed the 'craic'.
Aileen's research commanded the highest academic respect, across countries and continents. Her work was hugely influential, and, throughout her career, she made many significant contributions to the literatures on internal migration and rural communities. Her most recent project, Staying Rural, challenges the dominant focus in Population Geography on in- and out-migration, and pays overdue attention to the decision-making processes of those who stay in rural areas. The project not only reflects Aileen's research interests, and her talent for identifying novel research questions (and finding answers to them!), but also her love of collaboration and teamwork.
Indeed, it is collaboration that brought us together some ten years ago, and it is something I will miss dearly. We co-wrote, co-supervised and co-organised - although countless times we said 'we must do more of this'. My fondest memories are of many meetings spent over 'a cuppa' and scone in Cafe Conor, just a few steps from Aileen's office on Stranmillis Road. Aileen was always notebook and pen in hand, excited by new academic projects; a true scholar with so much to offer. During lockdown meetings we discussed future research collaborations, and a grand return to Cafe Conor... but this is not to be.
Our hearts feel broken that Aileen won't get to do all the things she had planned for after lockdown, professionally and otherwise. But, instead, it would be wonderful if we could celebrate her life and work. Grab a cuppa (tea), plonk some butter and jam on a scone, remember a funny moment with Aileen (there are lots), and then select one of her many articles and enjoy it.