Professor Richard Lawrence Ross - my mentor and friend of 40 years – has died aged 84.
A fearless, passionate, kind-hearted intellectual, he was a pre-eminent figure in film education for three decades.
A modest man who wore his considerable academic achievements lightly, he was known by peers and students alike simply as Dick.
In his later years - as the storyteller's storyteller – Dick was in great demand the world over as a visiting professor, spinning yarns peppered with wit and wisdom to eager devotees in the lecture halls, cafés and watering holes of Europe, where he could often be found holding court – with a glass of his favoured Châteauneuf-du-Pape - long into the night.
Born December 22, 1935 in Hokitika, Dick's father, Paddy Ross, owned the local bike shop and, as a member of the reserve Fire Brigade, played the B Flat cornet in the fireman's band. His mother was Muriel Bell, a school teacher.
Dick attended Canterbury University College where he met the textile artist Phyllis Ellen Hamilton.
Dick studied theology but left before he graduated. The story goes his questioning of the existence of God ruffled feathers. That coupled with the discovery of "forbidden gin" in his room on campus meant he was "encouraged" to drop out.
Dick and Phyllis married in 1957 in London, England, and Dick pursued a career in journalism.
A stint at the Exchange Telegraph was followed by five years with Visnews Ltd. His innate ability to remain calm under pressure – he thrived on impossible deadlines - came to the fore when, in 1965, he joined BBC TV News as an editor.
The gatherings at the Ross' house in north London were legendary, attracting many of the leading lights at the vanguard of the literary and artistic world of 1960s London, with lifelong friends such as the painter Pat Hanley, painter/sculptor Bill Culbert (fellow New Zealanders) and the British artists Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley a regular feature.
In 1980 Dick was headhunted for the role that would come to define him: Professor of Film and Television at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
I can only speculate on why he was headhunted by the RCA. Certainly he moved in the same circles as many of the leading avant-garde artists/writers/filmmakers of the 1960s, plus he was a consummate storyteller with an encyclopedic knowledge of European cinema.
While at the BBC, he also taught screenwriting part time at Nottingham University. I guess someone at the RCA just had the good sense to take a risk and hire outside of the world of career academics. It certainly paid off.
A maverick with an uncanny instinct for spotting potential, Dick changed the lives and launched the careers of countless filmmakers. The bridges he built between academia and industry were groundbreaking and unprecedented, and the battles he fought with the administration to secure funding and keep the doors of the film department open, were legion and legendary.
That he succeeded for so long (the RCA film school was voted the best in Europe on several occasions during that period) against such enormous odds, is testament to his integrity, dogged determination and unwavering belief in young talent.
In 1989, he accepted the position as Co-Chair (with film director Milos Foreman) at the Graduate Film Dept, Columbia University, New York. From 1990/92 he was Chairman of the Grad Film Dept, New York University.
Dick returned from the US in 1992. As someone who didn't like to stand on ceremony - who also smoked unfiltered Gauloises - I believe Dick was at odds with the straitlaced American administrative system from the outset.
Combined with this, his love for his family and his need to reconnect with his spiritual home in the Vaucluse, France, cut short his American tenure, but his burning desire to teach never dimmed.
Following retirement Dick divided his time between his apartment in Wapping and the house in France.
Beset with tragedy in recent years – his soulmate Phyllis died in 2014, followed a year later by his beloved son Adam – Dick retired from public office.
His sharp mind and analytical skills remained potent to the end – he even appraised a PhD research proposal of my own just a month before his death – and his legacy lives on through his family and those who had the great fortune to spend time in his orbit.
Dick is survived by his daughter Rebecca Ellen Ross, his grandchildren Ellen, Sebastian, Rebecca and Oscar, and his great-grandchildren Alexander and Svala.
• Writer and director Simon David Eden is a member of the Writers Guild of America West, British Academy of Songwriters & Composers, Leonardo - the International Society for Arts, Science & Technology, the National Association of Writers in Education, and the Society of Authors.