Patrick Renshaw obituary | History books

My brother Patrick Renshaw, who has died aged 87, was a noted historian of American politics and labour. He produced a major study of a significant British event, the General Strike of 1926, whose publication coincided with its 50th anniversary. Other notable volumes include American Labor and Consensus Capitalism, 1935-1990 (1991), and, perhaps the finest work of his career, a study of Franklin D Roosevelt (2004).

He wrote on Alexis de Tocqueville and produced the Longman Companion to America, 1910-1945, and many journal articles. For several periods he worked in US universities, which he especially enjoyed.

Paddy taught cohorts of American studies students at Sheffield University for nearly three decades from 1968, and after retirement continued to write academic articles, including a spirited defence of academic tenure, and many letters to the Guardian. He ruefully admitted to having told Radio Sheffield quite unequivocally that Donald Trump could not possibly be elected in 2016.

But it is as a conversationalist and raconteur that people will remember Paddy. He had hundreds of friends and maintained contact with them over decades, including schoolmates from the 1940s and a former prime minister of Sweden.

The eldest of three sons of Winnie and George Renshaw, Paddy was born in West Ham, east London, and remained a lifelong follower of the football club. In many respects he was a classic postwar scholarship boy. The family spent the second world war years in Sussex, and after attending Wanstead county high school, Paddy gained an open exhibition to study history at Jesus College, Oxford.

After national service in the RAF, he graduated in 1959 and, despite having been raised by communist parents, won a scholarship that took him to Northwestern University, near Chicago. The result was his first book, The Wobblies, 1967, a history of industrial workers, which was translated into several languages and is still in print. On the strength of this, Paddy was able to leave a reporter’s job on the Oxford Times for a lectureship at Sheffield University in 1968. There he remained until his retirement in 1996.

In 1959 he married Mary Davies; she died in 2019. He is survived by their son, Donovan, and daughter, Rebecca, a granddaughter, Alexandra, and by his two brothers, Geoffrey and me. Two of his children, Richard and Caradoc, predeceased him, as did our half-sister, Jean, the child of our father’s first marriage.

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