A tribute to Viscount Runciman

11 Dec 2020

Viscount Runciman of Doxford, former President of the British Academy, has passed away aged 86.

Lord Runciman was elected to the Academy in 1975 and served as President between 2001 and 2005. He was a Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and held honorary degrees from King's College, London and the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and York. He was also an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an Honorary Bencher of Inner Temple.

Viscount Runciman FBA.jpg
Viscount Runciman FBA

In the early 1990s Lord Runciman chaired the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, known as the Runciman Commission, which examined the English criminal justice system and led to the most radical reforms to the system for over a century.

Alongside these achievements, Lord Runciman built a reputation as a shrewd businessman, chairing several shipping companies and serving on the board of regulatory agencies.

Professor Sir David Cannadine, President of the British Academy, said:

“It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Viscount Runciman of Doxford, the 26th President of the British Academy, who published under the name of W.G. Runciman and was universally known as Garry.

“He always described himself as a sociologist and was elected to that Section of the Academy. But in a scholarly career spanning more than half a century, he ranged extraordinarily widely, publishing Plato's Later Epistemology in 1962, followed by Relative Deprivation and Social Justice four years later. Between 1983 and 1997, he produced his three volume Treatise on Social Theory, and among his later works were Great Books, Bad Arguments (2010), explaining why Plato, Hobbes and Marx had got things wrong, and Very Different but Much the Same (2014), which analysed the development of modern Britain, drawing on applied neo-Darwinian social theory.

“As President of the Academy between 2001 and 2005, he oversaw its historic centenary celebrations and a ground-breaking interdisciplinary research project – From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain – which brought together humanists and social scientists to chart the evolution of human cognition and social lives over the ages. During this time, he also edited an important Academy report examining the events, controversies and legal issues surrounding the UK's invasion of Iraq in 2003. The report explores the inner workings of the Blair government at the time and the deeper themes of trust between government, the governed and the news media. This project was close to Garry’s heart and remains an essential resource for anyone seeking to understand those times or, indeed, what goes on in the corridors of power.

“Uniquely for a President of the Academy, Garry combined his scholarly distinction with decades of business activity. For many years he had chaired the Board of his family’s shipping firm, Walter Runciman and Co, and served on the Securities and Investments Board, the government regulator of investments agencies which later became the Financial Services Authority. His skills and contacts were of enormous value at a time when the Academy was seeking to expand its work and influence.

“Gary was not only one of the great luminaries of the international academic firmament, but also belonged to a most distinguished clan. His uncle, the historian Sir Steven Runciman, was a Fellow of the Academy from 1957 to 2000, and his son David, an expert on government and politics, was elected a Fellow in 2018 – a multi-generational association with the Academy which few other families can rival. Our thoughts are with Garry’s wife, Dame Ruth Runciman, and family.”

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