Wednesday, 8 May 2013

OLD TEMPLARS – notable people who have lived in Temple Street 1

Professor Patrick Rivett 

Lived at 10 Temple Street 1967-89

Professor Rivett, third from right, with his peers
Operational research - the use of scientific methods to
solve organisational problems - came to the fore during the
Second World War under the influence of distinguished
scientists like Patrick Blackett, Charles Ellis and Charles
Goodeve. The unique contribution of Patrick Rivett was to
provide the focus and drive necessary to transform a
military activity into one widely used in UK industry and

Although he was born in Shropshire, Pat Rivett's family moved to London when he was only three months old, because an older brother had obtained a place at King's College. Their father was an inspector with the NSPCC, covering the Old Kent Road. Pat Rivett himself was a dedicated Christian
and politically left of the centre until his mid-forties.

Prof Rivett gained a first in Mathematics at King's, Cambridge
In due course, he followed in his brother's footsteps, with the intention of becoming a schoolteacher, but a first class degree in Mathematics resulted in his being drafted in 1943 into a statistics group within the Ministry of Supply. Rivett was assigned to a team working on the quality control
of ammunitions production, and the transformation of the mathematician to a practitioner interested in real problems was quickly made. His natural talent for communication was first put to the test when explaining control charts to operatives who had left school at 14.

The ending of the war changed the nature of the work and
Rivett was transferred internally to the Ordnance Board,
working directly to military officers on fragmentation
patterns of shells and bombs. He could not see the point of
it, but kept himself very busy by first obtaining an MSc at
Birkbeck College and then lecturing two nights each week at
Battersea Polytechnic. The extra money that he earned
enabled him to marry, as it so happened into a South Wales
mining family, and that produced a strong emotional desire
to work in the coal industry.

In 1951, he became head of the National Coal Board's Field
Investigation Group, which he built up to what became the
largest operational research group in the UK. High
recruitment standards were set and staff then taught each
other about new developments through a formalised learning
process. The excellence of the work carried out became
widely known, and Rivett was delighted when his staff went
off to other jobs, so spreading operational research (OR),
with many subsequently obtaining professorships.

During this period, he became the honorary secretary of the
Operational Research Society when it was first formed from
the OR Club. Working from his desk in the Coal Board, Rivett
set about transforming the club into a learned society, with
a quarterly publication which has since become a leading
international monthly journal.

At Lancaster University, Professor Rivett became the first Professor of OR outside the US

Whilst at the Coal Board, he had visited the United States
and even taken a two-week course at the Case Institute of
Technology, where he had struck up a close friendship with
Russ Ackoff. When Lancaster University was founded, its
first Vice-Chancellor decided that Operational Research
would be one of the first two departments to be formed and
Ackoff recommended Rivett to Charles Carter. Thus in 1963 he
became the first professor of OR outside the US.

In 1967 he moved to Brighton. He was
thoroughly miserable

Once again, he was in at the beginning of something new and
set about the work with enormous enthusiasm. The foundations
were laid for the highest regarded OR department in a UK
university. Close relationships were established with
industry. Both teaching and research had a strong
applications flavour. Other universities quickly noted its
success and Rivett was approached by Sussex, which at that
time had a glamorous image. Making what he later described
as a great mistake, in 1967 he moved to Brighton. He was
thoroughly miserable. The university did not like his
contacts with industry, there were demonstrations against
what he was trying to do and his filing cabinets were broken
into. When his wife died and he was left with a young
daughter, he worked part-time, before retiring in 1988 when
the opportunity presented itself.

Shortly after retirement, he found great happiness in his
second marriage. A move to Cumbria enabled him to renew his
contacts with operational research at Lancaster. With more
time for research, he worked with health authorities in
Lancashire on the delivery of health care for the frail
elderly and the preventive management of coronary heart
disease, because he firmly believed that OR was to improve
the human condition.

He also replied to the 50 or so letters that he received
each week, for his natural affability had made many friends.
Indeed his eloquence could make any topic sound exciting,
not least when he was talking about football, in which Pat
Rivett had a passionate interest, and he sentimentally
supported Millwall to the end.

Alan Mercer
The Independent
18 August 2005

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