The Society e-Newsletter
Special Transition Issue

A Retrospective

 Volume 39

Number 3

A Message from the Society President / A Fitting Gift of ThanksThank You, RobertaRoberta Spencer: A RetrospectiveRemembering Roberta's ServiceFrom the New Executive Director Mark NelsonThe New Society Office & Contact InformationSDS Professional Staff Team


Roberta Spencer: A Retrospective

By Roberta L. Spencer 

Reflecting on more than twenty years with the System Dynamics Society is no small endeavor. From my first encounter with the field in 1981 in Rensselaerville, New York to my first conference of the Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1996 as an attendee, to my final conference as Executive Director in Reykjavík, Iceland this year, it has been an amazing journey. I have a tendency to report by the numbers – membership, conference size, money in the bank – but the number that really matters is the number of people I have worked with over the years. 

And that is not just a number. The real joy in my job has been to collaborate with so many amazing people. Together, we have done important things, but my memories are not filled with accomplishments as much as recollections of scenes and activities we have shared. All kinds of memories churning and bubbling up in a random rush and jumble. Unordered, stream of consciousness memories multiply, and then the ones already listed start to expand. 

So, rather than a long chronology, I am really happy to present some thoughts by which I remember some of the many people from our community. These are not the only, or top, or best memories, they are a random sample that bubbled up while trying to write this piece. (I had fun doing this.) The list has no order, but because our conferences have been a huge part of my life, activities around the conferences dominate. This list is also clearly incomplete, so if you remember an interesting interaction with me, drop me a note, and we will add it to build this into a mountain of memories. This list just scratches the surface … 

Unloading boxes of Society materials into the Society office at the University at Albany, with Mike Radzicki and Mohammad Mojtahedzadeh. 

Traveling to Istanbul with my husband Bob (photographer for this photo above) and son Dan, to my first overseas conference and meeting Yaman Barlas, first year as Executive Director in 1997. 

Swimming in the Great Barrier Reef with Kristine Kelly. 

Almost yearly, hosting a President in my home’s “Presidential Suite” including Jac Vennix, Ali Mashayekhi, David Ford, David Lane, Ed Anderson, Jürgen Strohhecker … 

Hosting Warren Farr and Ken Cooper who were good sports about sleeping in our family “bunk” room (in the basement, not exactly 5-star!). 

Having email correspondence with Barry Richmond, too late in the day, and he would call the office and tell me to “Go home!” 

Working with wonderful Graduate Assistants including Vedat Diker, who created the first web-based submission review system and Navid Ghaffarzadegan, who helped create the web-based Case Repository. 

Since I was rarely home on my birthday, celebrating my birthday with: 

  • David Andersen and family on a balcony of the Villa Igea Hotel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
  • John Morecroft atop the high-rise Seoul Olympic Parktel, overlooking the Olympic Park in Korea.
  • Jorgen Randers, enjoying a typical seafood dinner in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Brad, Sally, and Shaun Morrison in Naxos, Greece. 

Attending Frank Davidson’s 90th birthday celebration. 

Receiving the Dalai Lama’s end of day prayer, that is posted on my office wall, from John Richardson. 

Having Carmine Bianchi live with us while he was on sabbatical in Albany, New York. 

Accompanying Man-Hyung Lee to the clothing district in Seoul, Korea to have a beautiful, custom-made Korean dress made. 

Diana Fisher taking care of me when I was so sick in Singapore. 

Shopping with Lakshminarayanan and Subha Samavedham for ruby earrings in the jewelry district on Serangood Road in Singapore. 

Visiting: 

  • the English countryside with Jonathan Coyle, and years later with Kim Warren and Christina Spencer.
  • the rugged seaside around Wellington, New Zealand with Bob Cavana and Peter Galbraith.
  • Stonehenge with Brian Dangerfield.
  • Rome and Tuscany with Habib and Vera Sedehi in mid-September 2001. 

Seeing Eiger Mountain, Switzerland, with Markus Schwaninger. 

Going to my first professional football game with Allen Boorstein, a New York Giants game. 

Picking and eating raspberries with Jim and Debra Lyneis in their beautiful garden. 

Learning from Erik Pruyt how to eat herring, by the tail, in the open market in Delft. 

Drinking coffee at a donut shop in Seoul, Korea with Asmeret Bier Naugle, deciding if we should try the kimchi donut. 

Hosting Khalid Saeed for dinner when he came from Thailand to visit WPI. 

Looking at the dodo bird specimen while sharing a plate of gourmet cheese and crackers, and drinking white port wine, at the University Natural History Museum, across the road from Keeble College, in Oxford, England, with Graham Winch. 

Having a garden afternoon tea with homemade scones and clotted cream with Kathleen Lusk-Brooke. 

Listening to: 

  • George Richardson sing and play his guitar.
  • Erling Moxnes sing a Norwegian folk song and play the Hardanger fiddle.
  • Jack Homer play the saxophone.
  • Joel Rahn sing the System Dynamics Song. 

Welcoming Bob Eberlein (sunburned and blistered lips) at the Hotel Albuquerque as he arrived at the 2009 conference, finishing the 2,200+ mile bike ride from Massachusetts to New Mexico. 

Celebrating Peter Milling’s retirement at the Festschrift, with Andreas Größler, Switbert Miczka, Elke Husemann … 

Riding bicycles: 

  • in the Netherlands with Nathan Forrester.
  • realizing the faster you go, the easier it is to balance, when Lees Stuntz and I road one bike back to the city center. 

Horseback riding: 

  • around Stone Mountain, Georgia, with Jim Hines.
  • in the Norwegian mountains just outside of Bergen, arranged by Pål Davidsen (although he didn’t ride!) 

Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and digging green clay out of the earth nearby to apply as a face mask, with Giovan Battista Montemaggiore and Gianliborio Marrone. 

Riding on the back of a Vespa scooter, for the very first time, weaving through the congested Palermo city traffic, while Enzo Bivona drove us to sign paperwork for the conference banquet. 

Walking on the beach, enjoying a perfect evening at the Beachclub Royal in Hoek van Holland with Monique van der Toorn-Fennema, Jill Slinger, and the whole Delft crew. 

Receiving a gigantic Swiss cow bell as a gift, presented by Stefan Grösser from the Swiss Chapter; my 10th year as Executive Director, in 2007.

Then, ringing that cowbell in 2017 on stage to "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" with Drew Jones and others (Gotta have more cow bell!). My 20th anniversary at Executive Director. 

Hiking in the Alps with Silvia Ulli-Beer, Rod and Hanlon MacDonald, Etiënne Rouwette, Florian Kapmeier, Krys Stave and John Sterman, and being on the alert for falling Swiss cows. (Ask Florian.) 

Falling overboard while whitewater rafting in New Mexico with Aldo Zagonel. (Maybe Andy Ford was right as he advised against this activity!) 

Hearing Qifan Wang speak about his devotion to the development of System Dynamics in China, and meeting Haiyan Yan and many of Qifan’s other students at our conferences. 

Helping Len Malczynski with the finances so he could design and buy unique t-shirts for the Student Chapter to sell. 

Squeezing extra t-shirts into my suitcase with Larry Gottschamer to bring them back to the Home Office for storage. 

Sharing a 6-bed hostel room with Mike Breslin, Babak Bahaddin, Jonathan Nichols, Madhu Madhavi, and Mert Edali, as well as passing Angelika Schanda, Mihir Mathur, and lots of other conference attendees in the hallways. 

Navigating around Washington, DC, with Imrana Umar during a very hot summer. 

Admiring Harald Sverdrup’s Icelandic apple trees growing in his front yard. 

Picking blueberries with Nici Zimmermann. 

Talking about: 

  • snowboarding and downhill skiing experiences with David Peterson.
  • playing water polo with Alan Graham.
  • community gardens with Dennis Meadows.
  • health issues and sharing recovery stories with Mark Heffernan, Jim Thompson, and Geoff Coyle.
  • parenting and sharing pictures of children growing up over the years with Scott Rockard, Özge Pala, Hyungjung Kim, Weijia Ran, Paulo Gonçalves, Raafat Zaini, Luis Luna, Nacho Martínez-Moyano, Hazhir Rahmandad … 

Listening to Eliot Rich’s daughter sing. 

Seeing the beautiful artwork of Ik Jae Chung’s daughter. 

Sleeping in Laura Black and Don Greer’s camper. 

Phoning Michael Bean, out of the blue, to ask if he could make a delivery to a San Francisco hospital, to friends of mine in a desperate situation, and he did. 

Looking forward to receiving great printed pictures from Jack Pugh; he was one of our first volunteer conference photographers. 

Having a photo taken each conference year with Dean Christensen, another of our wonderful volunteer conference photographers. 

Watching hang gliders fly off Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts, with Souleyman Bah. 

Having Els van Daalen accompany me to the hospital after I broke my shoulder in the bike accident in Delft, and later Tsuey-Ping Lee keeping me company, for dinner, in my room at the Hampshire Hotel. Being looked after overnight by Weija Ran, who did not sleep at all. Receiving touching, inspiring get well wishes from Gary and Linda Hirsch, and many, many others, while recovering from my broken shoulder. 

Enjoying the company of, and working on conferences and in governance, with many strong, intelligent women such as Julie Pugh, Nan Lux, Ginny Wiley, Laura Peterson, Sharon Els, Allyson Beall, Birgit Kopainsky, Nancy Hayden, Josephine Kaviti Musango, Anna Ólafsdóttir, and many more. 

Meeting Robin Langer 36 years ago, experiencing life and friendship while working and growing up together. Downhill snow skiing with LouAnne Lundgren. Being room mothers with Joan Yanni for our sons who were in the same class. Sharing tomato plants and gardening tips with Carrie Stickan. Cooking with Mary Kenney. 

Having Jay say “Well, you’re doing a good job, Roberta” while lunching in the dining room of his assisted living facility in Concord, Massachusetts. 

Thank you all for an amazing two decades. My mind is full of many more unarticulated memories that did not make this unfinished, unsystematic sampling. I look forward to seeing many of you in Albuquerque 2019, and am completely confident that there will be more interesting things to make future memories.


Roberta with the Home Office Staff in Milne Hall at the University of Albany - Summer 2018  

System Dynamics Society