I learned only now, via Twitter, that Maxine Clarke has died.
Maxine was kind of the reason I started blogging.
Back in 2008 I rather suddenly – and unexpectedly – found myself having been made the editor-in-chief of a small journal that was not doing well at all. In my naiveté, to try and kick things up a bit, I decided to put together a special issue on science communication. As you might when finding yourself in such a situation, I googled around for possible contributors and found a piece by Maxine on Nature Network (ironically, I cannot find it now – I will add the link later when I do). I liked what she said and was bold enough to ask whether she would contribute to the special issue. She accepted, which I have to say I was as pleased as pleasantly surprised about.
So I ended up editing her article – and afterwards she complimented me on a great job. As absolutely nice as that was I only later realised the scale of that compliment, considering Maxine’s role at Nature! Once I did, I was almost mortified (and had I known before I would probably not have dared to touch the text at all..!). But I have to admit that I later extremely proudly used the argument “I’ve been commented on my editing by a Nature editor” once or twice.
After this I started reading the blogs on Nature Network more regularly, and I liked much of what I saw, most of all the community spirit that clearly came across. After some soul-searching, I decided to start blogging myself. (After NN was discontinued, the posts – with comments – were moved here, but I also copied them to Occam’s, if you’re interested. I have not fixed the formatting on most of them yet, apologies.)
There’s something else – big – that Maxine helped me with: because of a coincidence, I learned that one of the editors of that same journal I was put in charge of was a very prominent figure in the HIV-AIDS denialism world. Which I had never come across before. So while I was “familiarising myself” with that parallel universe and as my belief in the general sanity of humankind started wavering, I asked her – as a senior, very experienced editor – for advice on how to deal with this situation. I learned that Maxine had a lot of experience with that particular kind of madness, and she was an absolutely tremendous help for me. She even put me in touch with a prominent HIV researcher who spent time on a long phone conversation with me, basically educating me on the issue. I would like to stress that she never even remotely told me what to do – she just gave me the information to make up my own mind.
The first time I met Maxine in person was at the first Science Online London event in 2008. The day before, there was a guided tour of London’s sciency-sites (led by Matt Brown, now from The Londonist). Throughout the tour and afterwards I was very impressed by her friendliness towards and interest in seemingly absolutely everyone! She made a real effort to talk to lots of people, and it was not just small talk. This is a skill I wished then (and still wish) I had.
It was the same on Nature Network: Maxine constantly seemed to be everywhere, and I remember wondering regularly how she found the time to follow all these blogs and make comments that were far more than “this is a great post” cheers.
Towards the end of the time of the now “Occam’s crew” at Nature Network, my contact with Maxine broke off. But I kept thinking about her, what she had done for me and what I learned from her, at very regular intervals.
I guess several of “me and my blogging buddies” may have similar stories. Eva wrote a wonderful post about Maxine already on 18 December.
Maxine was an absolutely beautiful person, and my thoughts are with her family and the friends and colleagues she leaves behind.
(Maxine’s obituary by Nature is here.)