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Michael Shamash Obituary

November 19, 2021

Although small in stature, my friend Michael Shamash, who has died aged 63, had a very big presence in the lives of many who knew him. Michael had an aptitude for building lasting friendships, whether through chairing the Restricted Growth Association (2003-07), lecturing on critical disability studies at the University of Middlesex, his directorship of the disability advocacy organisation Shaping Our Lives (2018-21), or through his work in social care and his wide range of interests.

I met Mike in London in the early 1980s, when we both worked for Camden social services department. Later, we joined forces as shop stewards for the local branch of the public sector union Nalgo (now incorporated into Unison). Mike was passionate about social justice and worked hard to represent the interests of staff in need of help. In the 1990s he served as a trustee to the British Association of Social Workers.Advertisement

On visiting Mike’s flat for the first time, I was struck by the huge, framed wall prints of Russian communist iconography, depicting strong, proud images of Russian industrial workers. These works reflected Mike’s overlapping interests in art, fashion, politics and travel; he regularly travelled, often alone, to non-tourist destinations, such as (then) eastern bloc countries, to enquire for himself about life under different regimes.

Also in Mike’s flat were his display of model buses, a form of transport he regularly used and one about whose regional history he had an almost encyclopedic knowledge. Mike could also wax lyrical on the merits of the Trabant car and, eventually, he journeyed to Germany in one with his childhood friend Will Self, the subject of a BBC Radio 4 series, Self Drives: The Trabant, broadcast in 2016.

One of four children of Charles Shamash, a dentist, and Arabella (also Shamash by birth), Mike grew up and lived all his life in north-west London. He went to University College school in Hampstead, and studied sociology and politics at the University of Warwick before joining Camden council as a social work assistant. Later he completed an MA in criminology at the University of Middlesex.

He loved the city of his birth, despite the demise of some landmarks that were personally significant to him. He and other contributors memorialised these on a website he and an old college friend initiated, called London RIP. As someone with restricted growth, Mike was noticeable when out in public and too often experienced being stared at or even ridiculed. Although never lost for the right expletive, Mike was rarely downhearted and his positive outlook was one of his many strengths, along with warmth, interest in others, and sense of fun.

Ten years ago Mike met Helen Tonge and together they had a daughter, Lydia. Mike rejoiced in fatherhood and adored Lydia, who is now two years old and is proving to be as sociable as her dad.

Mike is survived by Helen and Lydia, his mother, his sister, Adele, and brothers, Jack and Philip.

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