In Memory of Ian O. Morrison

Ian O. Morrison socializing with colleagues during a Dublin Core Workshop in Helsinki, Finland. October 1997.
Earlier this week I learnt the sad news that my friend, colleague and mentor Ian Morrison had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack while on vacation in the United States.

Like many people that knew him professionally, I posted a remembrance on the mcg (Museum Computer Group) mailing list, which I’m reproducing below.

I first met Ian Morrison in 1994. He was on the board of the Museum Documentation Association (now mda) when I was hired as Technical Outreach Manager in 1994, and he was always a gold mine of useful advice on how to encourage museums to use technology to improve their collections information. He was also warm, friendly, supportive and unpatronizing — the best mentor I could have hoped for.

I particularly remember Ian saving my skin during the first presentation I ever did for the MDA, which was part of an event that Ian hosted at the National Museum of Scotland. My presentation consisted of me dismantling a computer in front of a bunch of Scottish museum folks in order to demonstrate the different bits of additional hardware that were needed in those days to make a “multimedia PC” (it seemed like a good idea back in Cambridge a few days earlier!).

I was supposed to talk for 30 minutes, but I was so nervous with stage fright after a sleepless night in a cheap B&B in Edinburgh that I choked after about 5 minutes. Ian saw exactly what was happening, and stepped in smoothly and calmly with his talk (about WINDEE, the Western Isles National Database Evaluation Exercise if I recall) as if it had been planned that way all along. There are many occasions I remember feeling grateful to Ian for his kind and wise help, but the palpable sense of relief he gave me that day was certainly the most memorable!

Another favourite memory I have of Ian is giving him a lift to Cambridge after some MDA event in London. It was a dark winter night, and we were driving through a blizzard. We were just about the only car driving on the M11, and couldn’t go much above 30 mph because of the atrocious conditions, so it was a long journey. But it didn’t feel long — we talked non-stop the whole way, mostly about politics, literature and music — Ian was a staunch supporter of the trade union movement, a voracious reader, and had extremely eclectic tastes in music. He was also just damn good company.

Ian and I stayed in touch after I left MDA, and I was always delighted to run into him at conferences and meetings etc., especially when we could get some quality drinking time together (I have a great photo of us out on the town in Helsinki during the 5th Dublin Core Metadata Workshop in October 1997, for example). And when I left the UK for a job in California with RLG in 1999, Ian was naturally my first choice to take over as the owner of the mcg list, a task he accepted without (much!) hesitation.

I last heard from Ian in August 2004, when he replied to an email I sent congratulating him on his early retirement (which I’d heard about through this list). I was in Montevideo in Uruguay at the time, after also leaving a job somewhat earlier than expected! As always, he was warm, generous, open and encouraging.

Ian was my mentor and my friend, and I’m really sad that he’s gone.

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