In Memory of John G. Ruggie: Tribute by Dean Douglas Elmendorf and the Harvard Kennedy School
September 20, 2021
A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf
To the Harvard Kennedy School Community,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you about the passing of one of our faculty members, John Ruggie. John was a colleague, teacher, and friend to so many people here and around the world, and his loss leaves a huge hole in the social fabric of the Kennedy School and of the world.
John came to the Kennedy School two decades ago and was most recently the Berthold Beitz Research Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs. During his distinguished career, John made significant contributions to both the theory and practice of international relations, winning numerous awards and being named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Before joining the Kennedy School, John taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at San Diego, as well as at Columbia University, where he also was dean of the School of International and Public Affairs.
In addition to his academic roles, John served as United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning and later as the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. He is best known for developing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, whose core elements have been adopted by many governments, businesses, and international organizations (including FIFA, the global governing body of football/soccer). I loved receiving updates from John about his progress in spreading the Principles and the logic of public responsibility on which they rested.
As John wrote on the tenth anniversary of the Principles earlier this year: “[They] have helped turn the idea that companies are responsible for preventing and addressing adverse impacts of their business on people’s basic dignity and equality into a mainstream proposition—thereby helping to provide a path beyond shareholder primacy toward multi-fiduciary obligations.” And he remarked last year: “Our fragile world is in desperate need of systemic change.”
Jane Nelson, who is the director of the Kennedy School’s Social Responsibility Initiative that John led, wrote to me: “John was much loved and respected for his wisdom, humanity, generosity of spirit and warm humor. He combined a superb intellect and strong principles with great kindness and compassion and a deep commitment to achieving practical progress in global efforts to respect human rights. He mentored, advised, and inspired thousands of students, as well as policy makers and practitioners from around the world, and touched the lives of many others.”
Former Dean David Ellwood wrote: “John was a monumental figure on the world stage and embodied the very essence of the Kennedy School mission. He was a pragmatic idealist who worked tirelessly.” And former dean Joe Nye told me: “One of my proudest achievements as dean was to recruit John to join the Kennedy School. We are all enriched by his life and diminished by his loss.”
For other remembrances of John, please see https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6845067984361336832/ and https://shiftproject.org/in-memory-of-john-g-ruggie/.
John truly leaves an enduring legacy. My heart goes out to John’s wife Mary (who was also a member of our faculty for many years), their son Andreas, and all who knew and loved John.