Alumni return to honor their mentor

In a room of more than 40 people, I knew no one, not a soul, except for the man of honor, Richard Branham, longtime KU professor of industrial design. I soon learned that the guests had traveled from Mexico, Brazil, China, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York and Oklahoma City to pay tribute to their teacher on this great night of celebration. Although most of us now live elsewhere, for a brief, memorable time we all had lived, worked and often slept in the same spot on campus: the Art and Design Building (now Chalmers Hall) on Jayhawk Boulevard.

Beginning with the 1975 graduates, alumni shared their memories and their gratitude to Richard, who sat in the center among us with his wife, Alisa, in their home just off campus. Each person took a turn, and the stories traced Richard’s profound influence on students through 40 years of teaching. Though the details differed, each speech expressed admiration, love and gratitude. Some of us recalled their first encounter with Richard’s blunt wisdom as a one-on-one adviser. Others spoke of their first class, when his enthusiasm filled a lecture hall of eager, wide-eyed students. Others remembered his passion as a thinker, problem-solver and designer.

As the hours passed, I watched as others listened intently, smiling and nodding in recognition and agreement as fellow alumni described Richard. And then it dawned on me: These people are not strangers. I know them because their stories are also my stories. Richard is the common thread that binds us all. He shaped our thoughts and actions. On this night, in a home I had never visited, with people I had never met, I felt very much at home and connected with everyone. All of us are wired the same way. Richard taught us to apply our critical thinking and creativity with an array of methods to design solutions for all kinds of needs, wants and problems.

We also remembered that while Richard was a college professor, he was also working in the trenches of business, designing in the United States, East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. He remains a true Renaissance man and a world-renowned designer.

Of course, Richard is one of countless professors and teachers who given tirelessly and expected nothing in return, but his story is one in a million to me as my personal guide and mentor. So to Richard, on behalf of all of the KU students whose lives you touched, I thank you for wiring us to observe, think, analyze, solve, design and work as good humans, “the Richard Branham way.”

Posted in: American Innovation, Product Development