Remembering Greg Ashworth

Mihalis Kavaratzis (left) with Erik Braun (centre) and Greg Ashworth.
Mihalis Kavaratzis (left) with Erik Braun (centre) and Greg Ashworth.

by Mihalis Kavaratzis

We were meeting in a pub in Groningen over beers – that’s where we always met, over dinner and drinks, never in an office.

“When’s the big party?” he asked.

“What party?” I asked back.

“Your defence party.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Book a date for your party! Book the restaurant and order food and drinks. Then you can start planning backwards and you’ll find out what you have to do tomorrow…”

This was late 2003 and I had started my PhD in Groningen under his supervision only a few months earlier. So, the ‘party’ was the last thing in my mind. “What a strange piece of advice”, I thought. In the coming years, I would learn to deal with his advice. I knew I had to take what seemed irrelevant and disconnected, think about it over and over again and give it time and, especially, effort. And then (sometimes months later), the moments always came when I would lift my eyes from the screen and shout to myself “Ah, …that’s what he meant!”

Greg was well-known for his work on place marketing, publishing with Henk Voogd their first article in 1988 and their book ‘Selling the city’ in 1990. He published an amazing number of pieces on planning, culture, tourism and, later, place branding. But his real passion and the work for which he was world-known, was Heritage Management. His face would light up when describing historical events, their influence and how they had been misinterpreted. As Gert de Roo (Greg’s dear colleague in Groningen) said, Greg was totally unfit for any administrative task. His mind just didn’t work like that. But he was an exceptional scholar, a truly political animal and a very welcoming soul. For his work and influence, Greg got an honorary Doctorate from the University of Brighton in 2009 and in 2010 he was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands for his contribution to education, scholarship and knowledge. He was very proud of both those honours and would joke about them as only he could. He had the best of typically British humour: clever, sharp, dry and, sometimes, painful. As Gert put it, “people who didn’t know him well could be shocked by his blunt statements, with us laughing to tears…”.

I am not the right person to talk about Greg’s contribution and influence on Heritage studies. I also feel I cannot account for or evaluate his contribution to place branding or place marketing. He believed deeply that heritage is ‘alive’, it finds its meaning each and every day as people use it for their own purposes, it takes its form as people try to interpret their past in order to build their future. My sense is that the field of place branding will be doing precisely that with Greg’s work for a long time as there is much of his legacy that we are still to understand, interpret and use to build the future of the field.

I know that’s what I will be doing with Greg’s influence on myself as scholar, professional, citizen, person… The ‘big party’ of my defence finally took place in December 2008. Greg and his wife Angela so kindly offered to host it in their house right at the centre of Groningen. They generously opened their living room to celebrate my small success. Greg was generous like that and his generosity has offered me too much to capture in words. I’ll start with these: “Thank you Greg! For what you were, for what we already know you gave us and for what we will find out later…”