Tuesday, June 02, 2015


Harry McGrath writes in The (Glasgow) Herald (2 June) an obituary of Ian S. Ross, Adam Smith’s definitive biographer, who died 21 May, 2015.
"Ian Simpson Ross, Writer and biographer of Adam Smith."
"Born: August 9, 1930; Died May 21, 2015
Professor Ian Simpson Ross, who has died in Vancouver aged 84, was a Scots-born academic, lecturer and writer who became Professor Emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia. He was also the author of the much-lauded Life of Adam Smith, which was the first full-scale biography of Smith in a century when it was published in 1995.
His work on Smith was a one part of an extraordinary academic legacy. He received his M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of St Andrews (1954), a B.Litt. from Oxford University (1956) and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas (1960).
On completing his Ph.D., he joined the University of British Columbia English Department as a lecturer. After his retirement, he was a community member of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. He helped organise the university's 40th anniversary Scottish lecture series involving historian Sir Tom Devine, art critic Duncan Macmillan, Dr Kirsteen McCue of Glasgow University and others. In 2005, the centre interviewed Professor Ross as part its Scottish Voices from the West oral history project.
Ian Ross was born in Ure Street, Dundee. He remembered it as a short narrow street of overcrowded tenements surrounded by jute mills and a foundry. His father John worked in the jute industry and his mother Agnes left school at 14 to go into service. One of his early memories was watching unemployed men lining up outside to collect dole money. His own family's material circumstances were often challenging, but his parents were determined that Ian and his brother Angus, later a founding English faculty member at the University of Sussex, would get an education.
Ian attended Blackness Primary and then received a bursary to Harris Academy where he supplemented his studies with visits to the local library in Dundee. His interest in Scottish history began at Harris and his love of Scottish literature was fostered by reading Angus's collection of Scottish books.
In 1950 he entered St Andrews University where he received a state grant in his first year and was then awarded a full scholarship. He studied for an MA in English Literature and graduated with first-class honours, specialising in Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature.
He was then offered the Tindal-Bruce Scholarship at Merton College Oxford and researched what happened to James VI's court poets when James moved the Scottish court down to London. His supervisor was David Nichol Smith, the brother of George Gregory Smith, author of the influential book Scottish Writing: Character and Influence (1919).
After graduating from Oxford, he applied for the Fulbright Scholarship and was accepted into the Ph.D program at the University of Texas. There he researched several figures of the Scottish Enlightenment under the supervision of Professor Ernest Mossner who was an expert on Smith and Hume.
Professor Ross was subsequently offered an instructorship at the University of British Columbia and taught his speciality of 18th century literature and managed to smuggle in some Scottish philosophy and literature. He wrote books on Lord Kames, William Dunbar, and Adam Smith. He became head of the English department in 1982.
He was a prime mover of the Arts One programme which proposed a less fragmented view of education for the university's first year students. Arts One was originally established as a three-year pilot project, but was so successful that it remains to this day as a small cohort learning and integrated inter-disciplinary curriculum.
At some juncture, University of Texas mentor Ernest Messner asked Professor Ross to continue his work. It was a request that, he said, defined the rest of his career and resulted in his much-lauded Life of Adam Smith, the first full-scale biography of Smith in a century when it was published in 1995. Professor Ross saw his subject as a man of letters as well as an economist, but he also wanted to reclaim Smith from misappropriation. A second edition of Life appeared in 2010 and the preface gives a strong indication of where Professor Ross stood. He wrote: "If Smith is one of the inventors of the modern world, what kind of nightmare did he bring upon us? Alternatively, if he did inquire successfully into the origin of wealth and how it is constituted, why is his message so badly misunderstood and misapplied? Well, the story of his life and books tells us he was very far from being an optimistic promoter of market fundamentalism."
Professor Ross was fond of visiting his homeland and I was fortunate to meet him in Scotland on several occasions. One abiding memory is a visit we made together to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum shortly after its refurbishment. We watched a short video of a Glasgow taxi driver explaining the essentials of Adam Smith to a passenger in the back seat of his black cab. Professor Ross was delighted by this and said the taxi driver had Smith spot on. Professor Ross's final visit to Scotland was in the company of his wife Ingrid in September, 2014. They travelled from Canada for the Scottish independence referendum and, as enthusiastic supporters of the Yes side, left disappointed but not discouraged.
It may sound cliched, but Professor Ross really was a small man with a big heart and it is no coincidence that he opposed all attempts to deprive Adam Smith of his humanity. Those of us who delighted in his company will remember other things too: his kindness, tolerance, generosity, and concern for others.
Ian Ross is survived by his loving wife Ingrid, his brother Angus, his children Marion, Isla, Andrew, David and Betina, and his nieces Stephanie, Vicky and Anthia.
[Copyright: The Herald]
What a moving testament to the life and work of Ian Ross by Harry McGrath published in The Herald. It captures the humanity of Ian Ross that many of us knew and loved about him. 
Ian’s scholarly biography of Adam Smith will never be surpassed. It is the definitive work on Adam Smith’s life, carefully researched, well balanced and thoughtful in its assertions about a much misunderstood figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.
Ian epitomised the quiet-spoken Scottish scholar who was unnecessarily modest amidst his brilliance and deserving of many more plaudits than he was awarded - though never sought.


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