A Robin sings among the bare branches of the Ash trees. A small crowd is gathered in a corner of Highgate Cemetery to commit the ashes of Ed Ross to the earth. A few hundred yards away, obscured by the gravestones and tree trunks, is the imposing bust of Karl Marx.
Ed died suddenly at the age of 73 last August. We, at Platform, had known him for four years after he helped in constructing a request for funding that we made on behalf of our allies in Naftana, the solidarity group for oil trades unions in Iraq. Eighteen months later Ed financially supported the work of our close friend (and now Platform Trustee) Hamza Hamouchene who was co-editing (with Mika Minio) ‘The Coming Revolution in North Africa: The Struggle for Climate Justice’. Published in June 2015, this was the first compendium of texts on Climate Justice in Arabic.
I remember well my first meeting Ed, together with Mika, over coffee in central London in the Autumn of 2014. A short man, he was so full of energy and so warm. His eyes twinkled with a delighted curiosity. He was eager to know about Mika’s experience of living in Syria and Egypt between 2009 and 2013. He was particularly taken by the stories of the Arab Spring and the uprising in Cairo.
We were struck by his deep knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, unaware of how long he’d immersed himself in the culture of the Arab World. He’d travelled to a number of Middle Eastern states, most recently the Lebanon. And he had followed the politics of the region since he’d become engaged in social movements in the early 1960s.
Ed grew up in a tough neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City. He was an extremely gifted young man, especially in math, and just for the joy of it he did data analysis for his high school biology teachers. In the late 1950s he tried to get a job in IBM as a card index guy, but they told him that he was too qualified. So he went on to do math at Harvard University. He was in on the early days of programming and on arriving in London he worked in computing for University of London, before joining the Gallup Poll to design and write a system for analysing data.
In 1977 he set up Quantime, a pioneering company developing software that designed the world’s first interactive analysis programme. After twenty years of intense and dedicated work, Ed sold Quantime in 1998. Following this he co-founded the OpenSurvey organisation, which focused on evolving commonly agreed standards for survey software. In 2017 he became executive chairman of Digital Taxonomy, a start-up engaged in the application of technology, including Artificial Intelligence, for understanding and coding open-end text gathered in surveys.
Alongside this digital brilliance, Ed was a polymath. I remember well his delight in literature as he told us of holidays in the Catskill Mountains as a young teenager, reading novels like Lawrence Durrell’s ‘Justine’, which had just been published. From the tales of others, clearly he had a love of music and cricket, red wine and restaurants.
Ed was also a political activist. He described to us his peace campaigning in early 1960s New York, opposing the steady build up of the US military offensive in Vietnam under Presidents JF Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Ed was among those resisting the Draft, or conscription, of men and women into the military to fight in South East Asia after 1964. He told us of demonstrations in New York, before he brought a one-way ticket to London, in part to avoid the Draft. He remained a staunch critic of US foreign policy and settled to live permanently in London, in due course becoming a UK citizen.
Over here Ed did not stop being involved in movements for social change, nor engaging in global politics – hence his continued preoccupation with the Middle East. He had a similar connection to India, travelling there regularly in the 1980s and 90s, and supporting activism opposing the Indian Far Right. Age did not stop him. Into his sixties he was extremely busy in Green Party politics, distributing innumerable leaflets in North London and standing several times as a Green candidate for Camden Borough Council in his local ward of Frognall & Fitzjohns.
It was an honour to have known Ed, to have him generously support the initiatives of our allies in the Middle East and North Africa, and to feel that Platform is part of a wider family of bold, committed and passionate individuals.
It is night now. The Tawny Owls call among the Ash Trees. Ed’s atoms lie in the warm earth amongst the ranks of gravestones. In the distance is the rumble of the unceasing city that he came to love. Still home.
With many thanks to Maya Ross, Mika Minio and Pat Molloy for the obituary at research-live.com