My father, Phil O’Keefe, who has died aged 71, was an academic geographer whose work over 40 years focused on people’s vulnerability to disasters and their impact on the natural world.
Among other projects, Phil undertook large-scale satellite mapping of sub-Saharan Africa, assisted in the first democratic South African elections, and led an evaluation of humanitarian assistance in Kosovo during the conflict of the late 1990s. He also wrote 30 books and more than 200 academic articles.
Phil was born and grew up in North Shields, Northumberland, the oldest of five children. His mother, Joan (nee Hennessey), was a nurse and his father, Jack, a miner who later worked in customs on the Tyne.
He attended Ushaw college, a seminary, from the age of 11, with the intention of becoming a priest. However, life got in the way. He studied philosophy at Durham University for a year from 1967, before transferring to Newcastle University to study geography, graduating in 1971.
In 1974 he became a research fellow at Bradford University and in 1976 he co-authored an article in Nature magazine, Taking the Naturalness out of Natural Disasters, which set the context for his working life. It advocated taking into account the views and perspectives of ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable, in any discussion on sustainability, resilience and adaptation.
After leaving Bradford University in 1976 he worked as an associate professor for four years at Clark University in Massachusetts, during which time he also got a PhD from Soas University of London. Then for five years from 1980 he was a senior research fellow at the Beijer Institute at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
Returning to Britain , he took up a senior lectureship at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University), where he remained until his retirement, as a professor, in 2015. There he was instrumental in creating an MSc in disaster management and sustainable development, which has now seen more than 350 students graduate.
Phil lived a full life outside of academia, serving for 12 years as a Labour councillor on North Tyneside council, representing the Chirton and Camperdown wards. He was also a driving force in creating a vibrant community and live music scene around the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields.
He bought an old sea captain’s house overlooking the mouth of the Tyne, and as our family home it became a place to stay for friends and family from all over the world – as well as “party central” for a growing family and their many friends.
He met Di Jelley, a doctor, in Manchester in the mid-1970s and they married in 1982. Di survives him, as do their four children, Mark, Jack, Jessie and me, his sister and two brothers.