Passing of Stephen Burnell

Stephen Burnell, former head of the School of Economics and Finance, passed away peacefully earlier this month after a period of illness. He was 61.

Stephen Burnell in his office

Stephen, a senior lecturer, worked at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington from 1991 to 2015 and was head of the School of Economics and Finance from 2002 to 2008. His leadership and passion for his subject and School had a lasting influence on the students he taught and the colleagues he worked with.

Stephen studied here before completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge. He then returned to Te Herenga Waka, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was a rigorous mathematical economist, and his colleagues recall that this was evident from the outset of his Master’s, during which he took apart and reformulated theory about the existence of an absolute standard of value.

His main research focused on the links between the macro economy and aggregate financial and economic outcomes. He contributed significantly to the School, including by participating frequently in seminars, assisting students, and engaging with staff and students on research topics. He led the School through a period of extensive staff recruitment, and his colleagues recall the impressive way he would pivot between the various fields of interest to the School, such as micro-economics, macro-economics, finance and econometrics, when questioning candidates. Stephen was intensely interested in policy and policy debates. At one time he was a member of a committee that provided comments to the Treasury on the formation of its economic forecasts.

Stephen’s friends and colleagues remember him as a brilliant man who was highly respected for his leadership and for the enjoyable work environment he created as head of school. He was known for being a remarkable manager who always made time to listen to another’s perspective, regardless of their rank or status. He had a great sense of humour and a quick wit. He contributed extensively to the culture and ethic of the School, and was known for the way he could bring staff together both academically and socially.

Stephen’s colleagues recall that during the years that the Wellington School of Business and Government (WSBG) occupied the Murphy Building, Stephen would typically have his lunch in the staff common room, and was known for becoming engrossed in discussion with one or more of his colleagues over aspects of economics. When WSBG moved to Rutherford House, he could frequently be seen stretching his legs outside, and always shared a friendly greeting with passing colleagues and students.

Stephen was the son of Jim and Betty (deceased), brother and brother-in-law of John and Linda, and uncle of Ryan and Shaun.

Family and close friends are invited to a service for Stephen that will be held at The Wilson Funeral Home Chapel, 375 Adelaide Road, Newtown, at 11 am on Friday 24 September.