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Harry Howe Ransom (1922 - 2014)

Obituary
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Harry Howe Ransom

Nashville, TN

Harry Howe Ransom, Professor Emeritus at Vanderbilt University and pioneer scholar of American intelligence, died on January 28, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee after a brief illness, on the property where he was born and raised. He was a true gentleman of academia.

As a young scholar in the 1950s, shortly before the CIA was established, Dr. Ransom was one of the first academics who extracted information "with a pick and shovel," and conducted research on the American system of strategic intelligence: its collection, analysis and organization. His published works in the broader sphere introduced readers to the real work and concerns about "spies." The primary focus of his work was the necessary public accountability of an American governmental department whose very function is inevitably secret.

Harry Howe Ransom was born in Nashville on May 14, 1922. He earned his undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University in 1943. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army in Europe, under General George S. Patton. Upon his return, he worked as a journalist for the Nashville Banner for a short time before returning to study at Princeton University. He taught at Vassar College for four years before completing his Ph.D. dissertation in 1954. He spent the following year on Capitol Hill as one of the first class of Congressional Fellows, a program of the American Political Science Association. After a brief stint as speech writer for Charles Howell's campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey, Dr. Ransom taught briefly at Michigan State University. In the spring of 1955 he was invited to serve on the faculty of a newly-created graduate center at Harvard, The Defense Studies Program.

During his six years at Harvard, his interest in American intelligence systems was sharpened. As Ransom stated in a recent article, he was "advised at every turn that the subject [of intelligence] could not be studied . . . because the relevant information is secret." He was undeterred. His first book, Central Intelligence and National Security (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1958) was the first scholarly book on the subject and was described by the CIA as the "best current account of the development, organization, and problems of the US intelligence system." Dr. Ransom was invited to write articles for wider consumption in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, addressing the issues aptly described by the articles' titles: "How Intelligent is Intelligence?" (May 22, 1960) and "Secret Mission in an Open Society" (May 21, 1961).

Ransom returned to Nashville, where he served as Professor at Vanderbilt University until his retirement in 1987. Another of his books, published while at Vanderbilt, The Intelligence Establishment, is broadly seen as an excellent orientation to the primary missions of intelligence: collection-and-analysis, covert action and counterintelligence.

Harry Ransom has been invited to testify before and share his opinions with Congressional committees, panels and leaders throughout his career, especially when the apparent lack of accountability - Ransom's touchstone - was under particular scrutiny by Congress and the public. Loch K. Johnson, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, summarizes: "As a consultant and expert witness, Ransom has carried the lamp of learning into the corridors of Congress, where such light is sorely needed."

Harry Howe Ransom married Nancy Anne Alderman of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1951, whom he met while at Vassar. She is a keen intellect in her own right, founding and directing the Margaret Cunningham Women's Center at Vanderbilt University.

He is survived by his wife and their three children: Jenny Alderman (Ja) Ransom, Katherine Marie (Kate) Ransom and William Henry Howe (Will) Ransom; three grandchildren, Alex Ko Yamashita Ransom, Jenny Ann Suggs and Lee Suggs, and three great-grandchildren.

The family would like to express deep appreciation for the loving care given to Harry by the VA Home Based Primary Care and Alive Hospice, as well as support from the First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Nashville and friends.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the First Unitarian-Universalist Church or Alive Hospice.

A Memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 15th at 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church.

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Published in The Tennessean on Feb. 4, 2014
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