Tribute to Gerald Segal by Lawrence Freedman at the Memorial held at King's College, London, 7 March 2000

We are all here this evening because one way or another we thought Gerry Segal to be a special person. It goes without saying that he was special to his family and his many close friends. But he was also special to numerous people who had come across him as a teacher or colleague - at Aber, Leicester or Bristol, Chatham House or IISS. They drew upon his deep reserves of intellectual energy, so that their minds suddenly buzzed with unfamiliar thoughts. Their curiosity about world events was intensified, their own endeavours encouraged. He was special to an even wider audience who knew Gerry largely through his writings as a sane and wonderfully readable commentator on all aspects of international affairs.

In the obituaries there was a consensus: Gerry was dynamic, full of ideas and initiatives, extraordinarily prolific, ready to challenge any orthodoxy and blessed with a keen wit. As, when I wrote this, and found myself straining for superlatives, I kept on hearing a still, small Transatlantic voice in my ear saying "Aw, come on" I should add modesty as well.

Many have remarked upon Gerry's talent for controversy and how this made him a fine commentator. He certainly was prepared to take risks in print and never checked his words against imaginary focus groups or paused lest his opinions be judged, sin of sins, unsound. Yet Gerry was not a polemicist. He did not mock or denounce individuals for the sake of it. He did not try out extreme opinions just to get a reaction. In fact his views placed him firmly in the mainstream of western thinking. Perhaps that was the point: he could make policy-makers uncomfortable because he took their professed liberal philosophy seriously. In many ways he was an idealist of the centre.

This is a position that is not unusual for Jews of Gerry's - and my - generation, the first to be born after the holocaust. It takes the tolerance and freedom of our own societies as something that can not be taken for granted, but must be protected and allowed to serve as beacons for the repressed and the persecuted. Certain human values are so fundamental that they must be asserted constantly. They are not culturally relative, not mere expressions of western prejudice, let alone some epistemological fluke. They define a civilised society.

What made Gerry so special, what gave him his edge, was his readiness to engage with Asia and assert western values at the same time. He realised early on that Europe and North America ignored or patronised Asia at their peril. He was excited by Asia's dynamism and fascinated by its variety. He urged all of us to take notice and put in an enormous effort - through the Pacific Review and the ESRC programme - to ensure that the region got the attention and the analysis that it deserved. That is why the proposed new Asian fellowship to be established in his name at IISS, about which you will be hearing more, constitutes such a fitting tribute. He worked with the countries of Asia as they tried to work out their role in the new world order. But he was never going to be an apologist for authoritarianism and fence-sitting in the name of Asian values.

One point in conclusion. I find it impossible to celebrate Gerry without celebrating Edwina as well. That, I know, was Gerry's view. In my last conversation with Gerry, still determined that his illness was a temporary setback, he spoke with real emotion of his good fortune in his marriage as well as his pride in Rachel. I knew Edwina first and when this sharp Northern lass appeared to have acquired a distracted rabbinical student I was a bit surprised. But these were two kindred spirits and their devoted partnership ensured that they both made stunning but individually distinctive contributions to international affairs. I doubt if even management consultants propose marriage with a cry of `think of the synergies' but this was a union that whose value was evident in professional as well as personal life. You always knew that any position that Gerry took had already survived considerable debate, and that while in discussion you might come up with a good argument of your own it was rarely one that he had not heard before.

Official disapproval, cautious colleagues, exhausted friends. None could ever persuade Gerry to stay his pen even if they wanted to. Very little in fact could stay his pen, as we saw in those final months, with a succession of published pieces, as good as anything he ever wrote, making the shock to those who were unaware of his illness even greater. Only death stayed his pen, but the legacy is substantial. Gerry has stopped writing but he will be making us think for many years to come.

See also: Tribute by Michael Segal