In memoriam, David Fleming

by | Nov 29, 2010

My dear friend and colleague David Fleming unexpectedly passed away last night, peacefully in his sleep.

I am still somewhat in shock.

I only had the great fortune to know him for four years, but from the outset I knew what a privilege it was. He found me at a time when I was struggling to know where to direct my energies, and supported me in so many ways to learn how to build a life around doing what I love.

Over those years he has become one of my closest friends. Heading to the local pub in Hampstead for a drink with him was simply one of the best things I have found in this life.

Even the name of this site (which I love) owes a great deal to him. After much agonising I just couldn’t decide on a name that felt right, until David heard me mutter to myself in jest “oh, maybe I should just call it Dark Optimism”. I well remember him seizing on this, and declaring that “Shaun, I would consider it an honour to partner with Dark Optimism”. I laughed, but over the next couple of days the idea somehow solidified in me to the point where it was obviously the right choice.

I will likely expand on this post when my head is clearer, but for now…

Thank you for all you did for me David, and for our world. I love you, and I’ll miss you so very very much.

David Fleming 2010

Update – David’s book Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It,
his life’s work, was published posthumously by Chelsea Green Publishing in 2016, and is available here.

~ Other online tributes will be added here as I hear of them:

My obituary for David, for The Ecologist

The Ham and High’s obituary for David (David’s local paper)

Lawrence Woodward’s obituary for David, for the Organic Research Centre Bulletin

Trinity College, Oxford’s obituary for David (David’s alma mater. See p.63 of the report, p.65 of the pdf)

The Times’ obituary for David

Rob Hopkins (Transition Network)

Raven Gray

David Boyle (new economics foundation)

Davie Philip (FEASTA)

Maria Elvorith

Martin Davis (to whom we owe the wonderful picture above)

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson (+ an April 2011 update)

Gavin Starks

Gillian Paschkes-Bell

The New Era Network

Organic Farmers & Growers

The Centre for Alternative Technology

Screengrab of some of the many tributes paid through Twitter

Sarah Nicholl (Nov 2011)

Brief 1m20 video clip of David and his flat, from 2008 (courtesy of his long-time friend John Cunningham)

A November 2010 interview with David, sitting up an oak tree! (courtesy of Henrik G Dahle)

David Fleming on Tithe Farm - 1987

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay”.
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

~Kahlil Gibran


  1. Raven Gray

    Dear Shaun, thank you for this post. I know how close you were, and my prayers and thoughts are with you at this time.
    I loved him too. I wrote a tribute on my blog here:
    He was a shimmering star, the brightest spark I ever met. I really hope you find the support you need at this time, and that his work will continue to shine through you (including the publishing of his Lean Logic book).
    Raven x

  2. Edmund

    What a terrible shock. I’ve enjoyed David’s wonderful humour, eccentricity & inspiring mind since I was a small child and he stood beside me as I grew up, encouraging and debating all ideas from ancient Rome to TEQs, oil and sibling rivalry. I’ll miss the paint pots in his bathroom, rock hard brown bread and curry. I feel I still have so much to talk to him about: this is a huge loss.
    With great sadness, Edmund

  3. Tribute to David « Sound of water

    […] went, leaving behind him a flock of inspired souls with a fervent desire to do more for our world. Shaun’s heartfelt post reflects David’s spirit and love wonderfully; a beautiful relationship I was fortunate enough […]

  4. Jen O'Brien

    Beautiful words Shaun.
    I am still in deep shock and sadness. I already do and will miss David terribly. I will miss my dear friend, an absolute pleasure to work with on Lean Logic, our deep ‘debates’ (i.e. arguments!), his wonderful sense of humour, humility, kindness and optimism. I had the great fortune and pleasure to meet David at his CAT lectures and be inspired by his genius to work with him for the last two years. His passing is a huge loss to the wider world and to the many many of us personally whose lives he positively influenced. One of life’s truly genuine human beings. With much love and sadness, Jen

  5. Julian Jackson - Environment and Technology Correspondent

    It’s a great loss to the environment movement in general, and pub-going in particular. I’m not being trite – going to the pub with David and being regaled with all his enormous knowledge and the unusual connections he made between disparate aspects of culture was very uplifting and inspiring.

    He will be greatly missed. I trust that his many works in progress will be edited and preserved for us, as that will be a more fitting tribute than any other.

  6. Gavin Starks

    A tragic and untimely loss.

    David is still a huge inspiration, his thinking, consideration and actions have touched so many people. I am glad we had the opportunity to share ideas, conversation, and a beer. Cheers to you David, and thank you.

  7. Marianne Edwards

    David was a great comfort to me after my mother died. He was someone to admire unreservedly and I am very sad to hear this news. He was so full of curiosity and so open to looking at things in new ways. He was wonderful. I’m so glad he died in his sleep and with friends and without any dreary illness.

  8. Cath Johnstone

    I was shocked and so saddened to hear of David’s death. I had the very great fortune, as it turned out, to be the note-taker at his wonderfaul talk at the 2009 Transition Conference, entitled Wild Economics, Wolves, Resilience and Spirit. I’d never heard anyone talk so fast and fit so many new (to me) concepts into the time available, and I was dismayed at the prospect of trying to catch all this stuff and understand it well enough to write it up. David noticed my predicament and offered to spend time afterwards going over it. So I got to spend a couple of hours sitting in the sun in the presence of what was obviously a brilliant mind, getting to grips with his ideas. David was kind, patient, funny, gentle, encouraging, modest and genuine. It was the most inspiring and memorable couple of hours and the highlight of my conference. I’m very grateful to have had that short time with him and doubt I will ever forget it.

  9. Chris Keene

    This is such a shock, I am greatly saddened. David was a wonderful, kind and inspiring man, full of life, and with an amazing intellect
    Chris Keene

  10. Jeremy Faull

    I first saw David when he was on stage at an Ecology Party conference. I had obviously never seen anything like him before. He moved restlessly round the stage delivering a mesmerising mix of message, anecdote, quotation, joke and total irrelevance without pause. The message part was perceptive and ahead of its time. He was urging us to learn the language and concepts of economics the better to oppose and confound tha arguments of our opponents. I have to say that at that time most of us were, apart from Paul Ekins, happily ignorant in economics. David too, but being David he went off and took a degree in economics.

    What a delight to have had him as a friend ever since. I share the experience of his many qualities, so movingly expressed in other tributes, but in my loss there is one quality I think of above all. He was so loveable. I am grateful to Martin Davis for the wonderful photo of David as he was and as we shall always remember him.

  11. Victoria Hurth

    What a wonderful day when David Fleming walked into our lives – and especially yours Shaun. I remember it like yesterday. Those lunchtime chats – David presenting his view of the world in his uniquely eccentric, penetrating and humble way. Alex and I will remember very fondly our tea and biscuits at his home, where he introduced me to Fred Hirsch (not personally of course) and we had a wonderfully heated discussion about consumption. You lucky thing Shaun to have a had that almost every day – if its possible I am sure he will have made you an even better person and cleverer perciever of life and all its facets because of it. In fact through his vibrant enagement with people and life, I feel we haven’t lost David – as he shines brightly in all of us.


  12. Jack Pezzey

    I first saw David when I attended the Ecology Party’s Annual Conference in September 1978, and David had a starring, inspirational role as the Party’s economics spokesman. I met him when we started our MSc degrees in Economics at Birkbeck College London in October 1981, and as fellow environmentalists rapidly got to know each other on the three evenings a week we spent on the course. Our firm friendship continued with great warmth and frequency until I moved far from London in 1987 and distance took its inevitable toll. I never agreed with him on the practicality of Domestic Tradable Quotas (Tradable Energy Quotas), but that never got in the way of our friendship. I will always remember David’s furiously imaginative intellect, which introduced me to no end of interesting ideas, and above all his wonderful warmth and friendliness which made me feel such a valued person. He was always great to share important moments with, whether for celebration or commiseration, and it is a great shock and sadness to find him so suddenly gone.

  13. Gillian Nott

    Whilst I was only on the perimeter of his great magnum opus (Lean Logic), his intellect gave a wonderful rollercoaster ride on subjects ranging from the Straw Man argument to the history behind St Wyllow of Lanteglos (who was reputed to roam around, in best music hall style, with his head tucked underneath his arm). I understand he gave a beautifully calligraphed history of St Wyllow to his nephew Ben as a very special (and very different!) wedding gift. David’s quirky sense of humour always shone through like a bright light in the e-mails I received from him.

    It was a great joy to have known him, albeit at a distance. My thoughts will be with you all on the 4th February as you celebrate the life of this very special man.

  14. Gordon Green

    I was first introduced to David in 1987 by an Independent Financial Adviser who referred him to me for me to act as his Accountant and Tax Adviser. This relationship continued from that time until this sad time. During this time we had regular business meetings which very often ended with us going out for a meal taking turns in who paid the bill. We became good friends and I shall most certainly miss him both as a Client but more especially as a friend.

  15. Nick Williams

    I met David about twenty years ago through my friend, the late Edward Roth. They were both very fond of each other, professionally with Edward’s work in homeopathic medicine as David was very interested in medical science, and with a shared sense of the ridiculous. David selflessly helped look after Edward when he was dying of cancer.The occasional meetings I had with David when I was over from Japan were always a joy. David was never predictable and his kindness expressed itself in his constant interest in oneself and all of his friends. I will miss David for that extraordinary mind but most of all for his good heart.

  16. Ros Simmons

    My dearest friend David died in his sleep on Sunday 28th November 2010.

    I have known David for some 29 years since I moved into 103 South Hill Park. He knocked on my door to complain that the noise the door was making as I closed it was shaking the whole house! In that rather surreal moment we became instantly friends.

    He has been my dear friend and champion over the years, lending me his wonderful, supportive and generous ear in all that I was doing and all that I was hoping to do.

    I have no knowledge or background in David’s field but of course
    he talked passionately about his books and I would do my best to assimilate and take on board what he said trying to offer some vaguely intelligent conversation around his subject! He always
    made me feel that I was actually adding to his vast knowledge in some wonderful and original way!

    I will so miss his lovely, lovely voice reading me stories and telling me tales as we walked over the Heath where he loved to walk and jog. I will remember the dinners we shared together, particularly for my most recent birthdays with other friends and a subsequent one, just the two of us, to the same restaurant in Crouch End, because he said he so enjoyed it there.

    I will remember the meal I made for him just a week before his trip to Amsterdam. We had spent a wonderful afternoon at the theatre and after dinner we read a short story between us and then some poems. He was feeling tired he said and left early by taxi.

    Thank you David for your very special friendship, your kindness and encouragement and the laughter we shared together. I am so sorry you had to leave before your book was finished but I will wait to see it published and out there for all to admire and see what you have achieved. I am missing you and will continue to miss you more than I can say.

  17. Ros Simmons

    I have to leave a change to my above message – it was, of course, 104 South Hill Park that I moved into and not 103.

  18. David – four months on… | michelle@foodsmatter

    […] of you who looked soon after David’s death may not have seen them. You will find them on Shaun’s blog. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Catching up… […]



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