Today we said goodbye to one of the original Lowy Institute research staff members, the Director of our International Economy Program, Mark Thirlwell. There are several reasons why this is a sad day for me personally, and for the Institute. Here are a few.

First, Mark is the only economist I understand. It is not just that I am particularly immune to any ideas involving numbers, but Mark has that rare ability – among economists, but also among the commentariat more generally — to communicate complex ideas clearly and simply. It is something I know many readers of his fine and regular posts on The Interpreter came to appreciate.

Second, Mark is sensible and sceptical, in a way only Geordies can be. This has meant that, from the beginning, he was there to puncture large holes in some of the more half-arsed ideas we came up with, especially in the early years of the Institute, saving us considerable embarrassment.

Third, Mark is a football fan. Not some johnny-come-lately, bandwagon-jumping Manchester United fan, but a real fan of real football (that's soccer for the dummies). I know this because he is a die-hard supporter of Newcastle in the English Premier league and if you know anything about that club you know that you have to be a real football fan to support them. And if you think this is not relevant to the work of the Lowy Institute, I can tell you that the original idea for our work on football diplomacy originated from one of the many football discussions between Mark and I.

Fourth, Mark likes pies. In the first year of the Institute, when we were located in our temporary headquarters in William St, he and I spent a lot of time at Harry's Café de Wheels. We came up with some of our best ideas there. Some of them even made it into research papers. (Unfortunately we also forgot many of them when we would move from Harry's to the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel across the road).

Fifth, Mark is not a snappy dresser. This is not really relevant to the Institute, but it did mean that for a decade there were at least two of us here who were sartorially challenged.

You sometimes get the impression that when people look at the Institute today, from the grand building and the voluminous research output to the strong media presence and our regular engagement with government and business, they assume it was always thus. Those of us who were there at the beginning know this is not the case, and that our success was far from assured when we began. Today we bade farewell to one of the people who contributed disproportionately to building the Institute into what it is today.

Mark, I know it is not goodbye, but you will be missed.