Remembering our friend Ranulph Glanville

Peter JonesCybernetics, Systemic Design

Ranulph Glanville presented his last major talk as our keynote speaker at RSD3 in Oslo, October 16, 2014 – the talk, and Ranulph, was historically rich, colourful, inspirational, intimate and witty. Dr. Glanville passed away Dec 20 after a brief stay in hospital following a rapid turn in the progression his cancer.  Although he studied under Gordon Pask for his first Brunel doctorate in 1975, I think of Ranulph as a first-generation systems thinker, since he was doing relevant work in the 1960’s.  He was an architect, cybernetics scholar, professor, and designer.  He was very active in the cybernetics community, the 5-year term President of the American Society for Cybernetics and a lifelong researcher and brilliant raconteur in the scholarly worlds he participated in. Ranulph wrote at least 170 published papers (other accounts suggest over 300), and was a significant influence on the new generation of systems and cybernetics scholars.

His posted CV is informative and shows a huge breadth of work. His page offers a number of papers, some of his most recent, but remained impersonal and uninformative, reflecting his disregard for the so-called social era of communications.  Ranulph’s Wikipedia entry looks impressive at first glance, but is woefully incomplete and sparse. Ranulph was a compelling live orator, and these summaries do not share links or references to his lectures and influential presentations. Ranulph did not participate in the contemporary social media frenzy (something he seems to share with most leading cybernetics scholars), yet he was quite social in the shared world of actual human activity. He and his wife Aartje freely spent hours with the RSD organizers, speakers and colleagues while in Oslo, telling stories, challenging ideas, meeting attendees.

I first heard of his passing from Ray Ison, president of the ISSS, who also wrote: “According to his wife Aartje, Ranulph died relatively free of pain and suffering. Over the past year Aartje and Ranulph have faced his fatal illness together, with admirable courage, and as undeterred in their regular day to day life as possible, traveling together, adding an extension to their home, and working tirelessly to support and enrich others.”