Roberta Retrospective: 
A Contribution by John Morecroft

September 2018 

Dear Roberta:

Thank you so much for all you have done to nurture and develop the System Dynamics Society during your long tenure as Executive Director. Without your efforts much that we in the Society take for granted would not be possible – for example the capability to organise a major international conference of the kind we have just this month enjoyed in Reykjavik, Iceland. Of course many talented people contribute to creating such an event, but without a Society there would be no way to harness and direct their individual efforts. You’ve been there with support and assistance on so many occasions. I still recall the 2004 conference which was held at Oxford University’s Keble College, just 30 miles from my home.  You helped to successfully negotiate a contract for facilities with the College authorities (no easy task) and, for a few pleasant and productive days, the 400+ delegates and guests were able to experience the unique atmosphere of Oxford College life.

You have been a friend and helper to many of us in the Society, not only organising and getting things done but also sharing-in our personal journey. I’d like to recall some of these memorable shared times, revived as best I can from brief notes I keep in an archive collection of engagement calendars that go all the way back to 1979.

It was 1981. You, David and I worked on the Rensselaerville Conference – the first ever international system dynamics conference to be held in North America, which sowed the seeds that led to the formation of the System Dynamics Society in 1983. My engagement calendar for that year was from the Sierra Club with a cover picture of sunrise at Burntside Lake in Minnesota. I flipped the pages of the calendar with its week-by-week breakdown of the year, one page per week accompanied by an evocative wilderness photograph from the Sierra Club collection. I began in July, the usual month we hold our conferences, expecting to find some record of this first-ever conference in one of those July weeks.  But there was nothing except some terse notes scattered across the days such as “paper for conference, JWF, mtg with Nat, meeting with Pratt and Whitney, Manchester Conn”.  So I started to turn the week-by-week pages of the year. Eventually I came to October and there I found a brief entry that said “SD Conference” with a pencil-drawn arrow spanning the days from Wednesday 14th to Saturday 17th October. This entry was so curt that I wondered if anything at all had really happened that week, until I noticed a diagram on the adjacent page (covering that week’s photo of sun and pines in Humbolt County, California). It showed a campus map of SUNY Albany on which was highlighted building 28, labelled Alumni House. This old map was enough to reassure me that that the 1981 conference had indeed taken place that week. It also jogged my memory about where to look in my archive files for more information about the event.  Sure enough I found a record saying “Roberta helped to organise the 1981 System Dynamics Research Conference – hosted by the Rockefeller College and held at the Institute of Man and Science, Rensselaervile, New York”.   

Fast forward to 2004. My picture engagement calendar for that year was from the UK’s National Trust with a front cover showing a closeup of colourful tulips in a Kent garden.  I flipped the pages to July and found my sketchy notes from the time of the Oxford Conference. It was a pleasurable experience to re-read the entries from 30th July to 3rd August, immediately after the conference had ended: Friday 30th July “Pick-up Roberta in Oxford”; Saturday 31st July “build makeshift cat enclosure for Figaro in garden greenhouse at home, with assistance from Roberta”, “travel with Roberta to Cornwall”; Sunday 1st August “long uphill bike ride with Roberta to the burial mound near High Cliff in North Cornwall; swift return ride downhill to Crackington Haven”; Monday 2nd August “Strangles beach - warm and windy + spray, walk and cream tea at remote bungalow near High Cliff with Jim, Deb, Roberta, Joel and Marg; Tuesday 3rd August “Rock & Polzeath; warm and sunny”.

Forward to 2015. My engagement calendar for that year was a Faber and Faber Poetry Diary, similar to my week-by-week picture calenders, but with poems instead of photographs. Once more I flipped the pages to July and found the 2015 International System Dynamics Conference in Cambridge MA. Again I will focus on my post-conference entries as these are the ones that show how you Roberta touch people’s lives through your generosity and willingness to be involved at all times.  The dates are 23rd to 25th July. The Faber and Faber poem for that week was called Window by Emma Jones: “His sadness was double, it had two edges; One looked out- onto skylines, and streets with ice-cream, men, and cars, and clouds like cut cotton. The other stayed in to watch his memories unbuckle and his hairs all repeat in the washstand. Both were impatient. Sometimes they’d meet and make a window. ‘Look at the world! Said the glass. ‘Look at the glass! Said the world.” Thursday 23rd July “drive to Albany, overnight in Albany with Roberta; Florian stayed too” (My wife Linda and I stayed at your lovely home which you explained was a classic Sears-Roebuck house – ordered and delivered as a kit then assembled on-site. It is beautiful). Friday 24th July “relaxing breakfast in garden & warm sunshine with Roberta and Florian; visit SDSoc Home Office, meet Robin Langer  (wearing Abbey Road T-shirt), Erin (golden-ginger hair) and Wei Li (Chinese student); afternoon bike ride to Poestenkill and Bubie’s store via Weatherwax road and back. Thunderstorm and heavy rain, sheltered under fir tree then in store; dinner with Roberta, David & Deborah – Bob joined us later”. Saturday 25th July “left Roberta’s, drive to Oakville”.

Forward to 2018. My engagement calender this year is once again a Faber and Faber Poetry Diary. I made numerous entries for the Iceland conference, but there is just one I’d like to share. Monday 6th August “9:00 Admin Committee, Conference Office 3rd floor 303; (before the meeting) hear Roberta practise her report to the PC”. It was your final and farewell report as Executive Director to the PC. You wanted one more sympathetic listener to hear your talk. It was bound to be emotional. You delivered it just right. It was a special moment for me to share your rehearsal.

Thank you, Roberta.         

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