In Memory of John G. Ruggie: Tribute by Caroline Rees, Rachel Davis and Shift
18 September 2021
JOHN RUGGIE PASSED away on 16 September with his beloved wife and son at his side. A light has gone out in the world. More than a light. John was a beaming beacon for so many of us who had the privilege to know him, to work with him, to learn from him, to laugh with him, to love him. He achieved academic heights that his colleagues at Harvard and around the world will attest to in the days and weeks to come. Yet his ideas and insights never rested on paper, for his gift was to turn them into the tools of tangible change and his passion was to make the world a more equal and just place. He did both.
Nowhere is John’s gift for crafting words that create change more evident than in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which he authored in his six years as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative. We had the good luck and constant delight of working with John through that time as part of a wider team which he fondly dubbed ‘Team Ruggie’ and which became an enduring extended family. As we then set up Shift to be part of the movement needed to translate the Guiding Principles into practice, John was at our side – not just formally as our Chair, but as our champion, support and guide, and above all as our friend.
John’s legacy cannot be captured in a few words. He leaves behind not just the seeds of the change he wanted to see in the business world, but the blossoming on all continents of new policies and practices, laws and regulations, fans and followers. John’s spirit will live on in all we do at Shift, alongside so many others in the business and human rights movement, to further nurture and fuel the change he set in train. Indeed, our name comes from a phrase John would gleefully pronounce, a sparkle in his eye, whenever he saw a new sign of the impact of the Guiding Principles – ’Shift happens!’ So it does – when grounded not just in the intellectual depth and drive but in the humanity, humility, integrity and compassion that were so central to how John moved through the world. We miss him deeply.
Our thoughts are with Mary and Andreas Ruggie and their wider family at this time. A memorial service will be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts with details to be announced in the coming days.
Caroline and Rachel
And the Shift Team