A tribute to John Ramsey

John Ramsey died this month after a heroic battle with cancer. With his passing the volunteering movement has lost one of its brightest, most passionate and trusted colleagues.

John was the embodiment of all that was good about our sector; a fiercely independent spirit, an unbending commitment to social justice, and a profound belief in the capacity of individuals to make a difference to the lives of others.

While he started off in law, he soon found his true vocation, and for the next 20 years he dedicated his working life to volunteering. He had done it all – a stint as a volunteer in Africa, chief executive of Student Volunteering England, trustee of Volunteering England, judge of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and, perhaps the role for which he will be most remembered, senior manager in the Volunteering Team at Age Concern, later Age UK.

It was his contribution to volunteer management and his demand for it to be taking seriously as a profession, that will be John’s most enduring legacy. He was the moving force behind the creation of the Association of Volunteer Managers, and its first chair, and was one of the most articulate and forceful exponents of that all too often overlooked truism, that behind almost all exceptional volunteering experiences lies an exceptional volunteer manager.

He had exceptional gifts himself. He was a great speaker, happy to speak off the cuff without notes, long before it became de rigueur in trendy political circles, and a formidable debater, combining a forensic eye for detail (the product no doubt of that legal training) with an enviable grasp of the bigger picture. He was also a fine writer and has left behind some profound thoughts on the challenges and, of course, opportunities (John was at heart a true optimist) facing our movement. But it was his people skills, and his ability to relate to, and inspire, all that he came into contact with, that was his greatest asset, and which made him such a brilliant volunteer organiser and manager.

And with me there was always another very personal connection; our mutual obsession with Watford Football Club. I remember with great fondness many a conference we were at together, finding a corner where we could share news about the goings on at our beloved Vicarage Road. Transfer deadline day just won’t be the same without being able to gossip with John about who Watford might sign, or more usually who they were going to have to sell to make ends meet.

We talked often about our respective desire to write the next great Nick Hornby-esque novel along the lines of ‘Watford defined (or probably more to the point ruined) my life’.

If I ever get around to writing mine then I will be sure to dedicate it to my dear friend John.

Thanks mate.

He leaves behind his much loved wife, Diane and daughter Heidi, the apple of his eye.

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Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

4 Responses to A tribute to John Ramsey

  1. Sue Davies says:

    I am very sorry to hear of John’s death. I didn’t know him well but I know that it is a sad loss.

  2. Caroline Bendelow says:

    A Beautiful piece written for a wonderful person who I had the privilege of working with. His cut to the chase, keep it simple approach should be a reminder to us all. We will all miss John very much. Our thoughts are with Diane and Heidi and all those who loved him.

  3. Neil Shashoua says:

    I met John when we worked at Age Concern England and then Age UK together. I really appreciated him for his integrity, knowledge and helpfulness. He would often travel great distances to be at meetings and talk to Volunteer Managers and others to find out what they thought. A great bloke.

  4. Irene Hardill says:

    I had the privilege of working with John for most of the time he was at Age Concern/ Age UK. John worked with me on several ESRC-funded projects, always projects that would make a difference to the people who participated in them.
    John felt strongly that robust social science knowledge can make a difference in shaping policy and practice, but social scientists should mobilise multiple knowledges, including the knowledge of practitioners. He ensured that social science knowledge had a wider impact beyond press releases, reports, academic journal articles or books – he put that evidence to work to change policy and practice.
    John also made an important contribution to developing social science research methods on the co-production of knowledge. He was a key member of an ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) network of methodological innovation from 2011-12. He wrote a quite superb ‘think piece’ on the production of social science knowledge from the perspective of a ‘user’ of research.
    John also played an important role in building social science research capacity. We co-supervised an ESRC collaborative studentship which looked at older volunteers. During tutorials there was always time for laughter, football stories, and more recently stories of Heidi. During the football season I always now look out for the Watford score!
    One week after he died an article he co-authored with our former PhD student Eddy Hogg (now at the University of Kent) and myself was published in Voluntary Sector Review. In the article we explore the challenges of co-producing research.
    He was unfailingly kind and generous with his time, with a lack of selfishness and ego. A total joy to work with, I have lost a colleague and a friend