Risk Frontiers is sorry to have lost two of its founding members. They are both sorely missed. Here are their tributes.
Laraine passed away on February 11, 2009 fifteen months after she was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. After an early career as a nurse, in the banking industry, and as a mum, Laraine did Bachelors and Masters degrees in Mathematics and Climatology at Macquarie University. She worked in statisics at Sydney University for a bit and then joined a fledgling research group at Macquarie in the early 1990s, a group that became the Natural Hazards Research Centre and then Risk Frontiers. By 2004 Laraine had become the longest serving staff member at Risk Frontiers.
Laraine’s early work was on an earthquake loss model built in a series of spreadsheets, refining it and then coding the model in Fortran. That we were proud of that model, the first home-grown earthquake loss model in Australia, owed much to Laraine’s skills, dedication, and sense of order – she could always find the electronic files we had misplaced and make them run again years later, even after we had changed software three times. Laraine also played a central role in the development of PerilAUS, HailAUS and, more especially, FloodAUS where her GIS work was at the very core of its success. Laraine played a valued role in almost every successful project that Risk Frontiers has been involved in since the early 90s.
Just as importantly, Laraine was also the social glue in the first decade of the research centre, until Carol Robertson (Laraine’s sister) joined Risk Frontiers and the pair of them charted a course of memorable morning teas, lunches and Christmas parties that were always fun, a couple of steps ahead of the competition, and an important part of the things that makes Risk Frontiers a great place to work.
No matter how busy Laraine was on her own work projects – and she was always busy, because she was so good at what she did – she always had time to help out her less tech-savvy colleagues with their problems, no matter how big or small. Her good-humoured, endless patience and her friendship were as wonderful and as valued as her expert advice. She really was part of the fabric of Risk Frontiers, inextricably linked to its proper functioning in every way. Laraine, we miss you.
Roy began work at Risk Frontiers (Natural Hazards Research Centre as it was then) in 1998. He had been working at the Climatic Impacts Centre (CIC) at Macquarie but it was running out of cash and Roy was just the sort of person we were looking for. At CIC, he had been working on a number of projects related to climate change and adaptation and one in particular that caught our eye concerned adaptation by the insurance industry.
Roy trained as a mechanical design engineer, but a decade of designing and installing commercial air conditioning systems, travelling and working in Sydney, Melbourne and London convinced him there must be more to life. He completed a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies with a thesis on the environmental economics of Sydney airport terminals and tried a few more jobs before migrating to the CIC at Macquarie in 1994. Later (2003), Roy completed a Master of Project Management at the University of Sydney and, although we encouraged him to do this, we still don’t know why as he was already
the best project manager Risk Frontiers had seen.
One of Roy’s early employers wrote: “Roy is a good engineer, accurate, thoughtful, literate and logical with the ability to address and resolve unique problems and the willingness to place the needs of the firm before his own enthusiasm in accepting work.”
Roy was humble – an attribute that at first blush some may have mistaken for a lack of confidence. In fact we never saw him fazed by a problem: he would think about it, very logically, and then invariably come up with a creative but pragmatic, fit-for-purpose solution. And in the age of spin, he was always completely honest about these efforts – and their limitations.
Roy possessed a very gentle, unassuming way of interacting with people. Slow to judge others he would even feel a bit guilty if this assessment ever turned out negative. Roy had good judgement and there would have been very few decisions, and certainly no important ones, that took place at Risk Frontiers without first being run past him. Some of you will have seen how, in helping to disorganize Roy’s funeral, John got the time wrong at first. Those attending should count themselves lucky: he could very easily have sent everyone to the wrong place, to arrive late at someone else’s funeral. Now this would never have happened if Roy had been organizing things; it was one of the few times Roy wasn’t there when he was really needed.
Roy died whilst the World Cup was taking place in South Africa, an event that would certainly have escaped his notice as he had little interest in professional sport. A quote heard the other day and attributed to Jean-Paul Satre went something like this: In the game of the round ball, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposing team. The sporting analogy in our business is the client. Many, in fact, most times these interactions are enjoyable and informative, but sometimes, just sometimes, we might get a call from Transylvania or Timbuktu when the conversation with Roy might have gone like this:
“So you have a hail loss model for Sydney.”
“That’s Sydney, Austria.”
“Does that include Heard Island?”
“How does it deal with Bird Flu in Vanuatu?”
“We’re working on it.”
Roy would always deal with such enquiries with equanimity. But Roy wasn’t someone totally defined by his work. In fact, as a philosophical concept, work didn’t really appeal to him much. He had other interests. He took holidays even though both Russell and John tried hard to discourage this habit in case the others caught on. What really motivated Roy to come to work and work as hard as he did was interesting problems, which is what our job at Risk Frontiers is really all about.
We could talk for a lot longer about Roy, but whatever way you look at it we’ve lost a colleague who was very special and so let us finish up some of the words that come to mind when we think of him.
Gentleness – even those who had difficulty working with anyone else would enjoy being around Roy. Humour – the kind that creeps up on you and then has everyone suddenly laughing at some witty quip. Wisdom – that hard-to define combination of judgement, experience and intelligence.
In his more than 15 years at Macquarie, Roy lived a pretty ‘green’ life. For example, he always used public transport and never owned a car – though he once confessed that if he did own a car it would be a big 70’s American V8 with chrome bumpers and fins! Ever since that confession Russell has held an image of him in a Cadillac convertible from that period and wearing a Hawaiian shirt whereas John’s sartorial memory is dominated by Roy’s godawful lime green socks.