Gipsie Ranney, our teacher, colleague and friend, died on 7 March, 2017. Dr. Ranney was on the faculty in the Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business at Belmont University from 1996 – 2006. Those of us who had the privilege of teaching with and learning from her are forever changed in how we think about systems.
Gipsie Ann Bush Ranney was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. She earned a bachelors degree in Mathematics from Duke University, and Masters and Ph.D. in Statistics from North Carolina State University. In addition to an extensive international consulting career, Dr. Ranney served as Director of Statistical Methodology for General Motors Powertrain Group from 1988 to 1992, following 15 years as a faculty member at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While at UTK, she co-founded the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Productivity through Quality. In addition, she developed and conducted numerous seminars on quality improvement.
Dr. Ranney was a student and close colleague of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. She spent decades advocating for Deming’s philosophy and helping people around the world with its application. In appreciation for her “outstanding contribution in advancing the theory and practice of statistical thinking to the management of enterprises worldwide,” the American Society for Quality awarded her the Deming Medal for 1996. Dr. Ranney was the first president of The W. Edwards Deming Institute. She co-authored Beyond Total Quality Management: Toward the Emerging Paradigm, contributed to Competing Globally Through Customer Value and wrote A Quality Lexicon. In retirement, she continued to write thought pieces and commentaries on management, quality improvement and statistical methodology.
Dr. Ranney loved to travel and explore diverse cultures and history, taking many trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. She defined lifelong learning and read voraciously. How many bookshelves have Marx and Mao next to Hajek and Friedman, the Bible next to the Quran and Richard Dawkins? She considered all ideas critically and independently.
While at the Massey School, Dr. Ranney taught Quantitative Methods and Operations courses. She required students to engage with material that many found intimidating. Yet, her approach led students through complicated topics and insured their mastery of these important ideas. She never tired of helping students and continued relationships long after student graduation and her retirement. If you frequent the Brentwood Panera you will likely have seen her there, assisting an alum with a problem.
She forced us all to think differently. When I made my research presentation as part of my interview for a faculty position at Belmont, Gipsie opened the question period by asking why I chose company earnings as a measure of success. That was just the beginning of the ways in which she would challenge my thinking. She introduced me to the idea of mastery grading, a process that values the struggle of learning, and removes the penalty for failure, while ultimately ensuring command of the material. Karen Kressenberg (MBA 2003) described this process: “She espoused a way of teaching she called ‘. . . for mastery,’ and she sent back papers and problems until they were perfect.” In Karen’s words, “She irrevocably changed the ways in which many of us approached business problems.”
Donita Brown (MBA 2006) recalls Dr. Ranney’s impact on her own management practice. “It was during her time as a professor that I developed my love of systems. She taught me more than just operations – she also was an advocate for being a great manager and told her class once that we must understand the power, we as managers have. Her exact words, which I remember her saying from the front of her class while point her Vis-à- is marker for the overhead transparency at the class, ‘you may never realize the damage you can do as a manager, be careful.’ She also taught her classes with such zeal and finesse that made math come alive. She was also a spitfire and I loved learning from her. Her examples of how to do complex problems often included finding the number of rat hairs that could be in peanut butter based on outside facts, etc. She was a systems thinker and many times said, ‘people act rational to the systems which are in place.’ This has been a powerful reminder to me over the many years.”
I used the “rational to the system” idea in class last night.
For those of us who had the privilege of knowing Gipsie, we will remember her withering wit, her incredible intelligence, her excellence in teaching and her extraordinary and unending commitment to her students. If you were not fortunate enough to know her, ask around. Many of us have stories about how Gipsie pushed us to think harder, stand stronger and be our better selves.
I can think of no more appropriate way to honor Dr. Ranney’s memory than continuing to tell her stories and challenging ourselves and one another to better thinking. Reading her ideas and discussing them is an appropriate homage to so great a thinker. Below are links to three papers that highlight some her ideas.
After her retirement, Dr. Ranney became interested in teaching English to non-native speakers,in particular to immigrants. She felt that language was a fundamental tool in accessing all the systems created to protect and benefit communities. To honor Dr. Ranney’s memory in a tangible way, contributions may be made to support this work. Using this link, connect to the donations page of the Conexion Americas organization.
When asked to select a campaign, please indicate Raising Hearts and Voices. In theacknowledgement section, write “In Memory of Gipsie Ranney.” This will facilitate tracking ofgifts and will ensure that 100 percent of contributions go to the ELL program.
Article written by her friend, Dr. Lee Warren.