It is with great sadness that the Department of Psychology informs you of the death of Emeritus Professor John Richard Hanley.

Rick was appointed as a Chair in Neuropsychology in the Department in 1998. He was an established authority in psychology and the neuropsychology of speech, visual perception, and memory, and he authored or co-authored well over 100 academic publications in the fields of face and word processing, learning to read in different writing systems, tip of the tongue states, and working memory.

Rick served in many senior leadership roles and for many years he oversaw the education of postgraduate taught courses. He was Director of Recruitment and most recently provided essential support to staff in the role of Academic Staffing Officer. From 2002 to 2004 he served as Head of the Department of Psychology.

Rick retired in October 2020 and died peacefully at home following a prolonged illness on Thursday 23 May.

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Rick came to Essex from the University of Liverpool where he had worked for 10 years as a lecturer and senior lecturer. He also held an appointment at the University of Northumbria. Rick held degrees in psychology from the University of Lancaster and the University of Dundee. He held a PGCE from Jordanhill College, Glasgow.

Rick served the wider academic psychology community as Action Editor on the academic journal Memory. His research on the disorders of reading, writing, memory and face processing has received international attention and praise. Many of his papers have been cited by hundreds of researchers around the world. Cognitive psychology textbooks cover his work extensively, meaning that psychology students will continue to be exposed to his creative ideas for years to come.

The Department remembers Rick for his dedication to the discipline, intellect, and commitment to Essex. He was truly embracing the University’s goal to focus on high quality education and research. He was keen to support early career researchers and to help them flourish at Essex. He encouraged all newly appointed staff to consider joining the Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) for whom he served as Honorary Treasurer from 2006-2011. He was keen to help build networks and facilitate scientific exchange.

Professor Geoff Ward remembers how, when Rick first arrived at Essex, “he contributed to Memory Club, a reading group of young lecturers and postgraduate students, and he added invaluable expertise, advice, and wisdom to our discussions. As a colleague, Rick took his duties seriously; he was conscientious, clear-minded, and he was willing to engage with students and help resolve any issues. As a leader, Rick was fair, constructive, and good natured. He made good judgements, even if this required difficult conversations or tough decisions. Rick was always encouraging and supportive, and when I was later Head of Department, I often sought out his opinion on my nascent plans and ideas - he always had time for me, and I very much valued his opinion and judgement, which often served as a valuable bellwether to the mood of the Department.

"As an individual, I found Rick was always friendly and engaging. He was an authoritative presence, whose opinion I felt really mattered. You tended to know what Rick thought of something before he said anything. He was capable of a broad smile prefacing his imminent approval or congratulations, but he was also capable of a fantastic pained-expression, complete with removing his glasses and shaking his head for those ideas with which he was less enamoured (often observed during my lengthy digressions in staff meetings). In this way, we enjoyed many conversations about Departmental policies, working memory theory, and the current form of the England football and cricket teams.”

Professor Silke Paulmann recalls how “Rick supported my career progression following my arrival at Essex. We shared many moments of laughter and I will remember him for his quick wit and humour. He mentored me well beyond my probationary years and I always valued his honesty and integrity. Even after his retirement, he was keen to follow the Department - and always willing to share advice. He had clear views on what would be good (or not) for Essex, but even when we disagreed, I know I could count on his support. Of course, when it turned out that he was right, he would highlight this to me. But equally, on the rare occasion that he was not, he would acknowledge that I got lucky (or, as one email subject suggested “falling standards”)."

Colleagues will remember Rick for his kindness and friendliness. He was always willing to help newcomers settle within the Department, University, and wider area. He invited colleagues to social events, to play sports, and thought of others when the opportunity arose.

Outside academia, Rick enjoyed playing golf and bridge. He served as County Captain for the Suffolk Contract Bridge Association. He proudly shared pictures of his family and in particular his grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues. 

This tribute was prepared by Professor Silke Paulmann and Professor Geoff Ward from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex

Funeral details

Rick's funeral will take place on Tuesday 2 July at 10.45am at Colchester Crematorium with refreshments to follow at Wivenhoe House Hotel Wivenhoe Park, Park Road, Colchester CO4 3FA. Family flowers only please. A live video link will be available for anyone unable to attend.

Donations can be made to the Motor Neurone Disease Association or Médecins Sans Frontières: