10 June 2020

Ron Johnston (1941-2020)

We are sad to report on the death of our former colleague, Ron Johnston.

Ron Johnston in his office surrounded by books
Ron Johnston

Ron was appointed Professor of Geography at Sheffield in 1974 where he also served as Head of Department (1982-1985) and as Pro-VC for Academic Affairs (1989-1992).  He left Sheffield in 1992 to become Vice-Chancellor at Essex University (from where he moved in 1995 to a Chair in Geography at Bristol University: he was still working there when he died).  To describe Ron as prolific (which he certainly was) doesn’t do justice to the depth and breadth of his scholarship.  He authored more than 50 books, edited 40 more and wrote around 800 papers.  Some of his books such as Geography and Geographers and the Dictionary of Human Geography went through numerous editions and were read by literally thousands of students.  One of his great gifts was the ability to write in the appropriate register for a wide variety of audiences from academic specialists to first year undergraduates.  His work encompassed political science and electoral geography, studies of residential segregation and urban geography, reflections on the history of the discipline - and much more besides.

Ron gained his PhD from Monash University in Melbourne, having taken his undergraduate and Masters’ degrees from Manchester.  He taught at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch (1967-74) before returning to the UK to take up a Chair in Sheffield.  His work was at the heart of the quantitative revolution where he combined rigorous statistical analysis with a sharp political eye and a generous humanity.  He received many honours including the RGS Murchison Award (1985) and Victoria Medal (1990) and the AAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.  He was  elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1999; won the Prix Vautrin Laud (sometimes called the Nobel Prize for Geography) in 1999; and received an OBE for services to scholarship in 2011.

Tributes from around the world have confirmed the high regard in which he was held internationally.  We have also been reminded of his life-long devotion to Swindon Town FC; his wicket-keeping prowess; and his devotion to the art of bell ringing (which led to further publications including An Atlas of Bell Ringing which Ron sometimes claimed was his best-selling book).  To his amusement and delight, the Department named its research room in his honour and there is a photograph on the wall, capturing his engaging smile and sunny disposition.  Ron was a consummate geographer and a highly respected scholar.  We remember him for his unique blend of wit and wisdom and we send his family our warm wishes and sincere condolences.

Written by Peter Jackson, Charles Pattie and Paul White