Anthony (Tony) Sanford (1944-2015)

A personal reflection from Andrew J. Stewart (University of Manchester).

Professor Anthony (Tony) Sanford, who died on 4 December 2015, was a highly influential cognitive psychologist who explored the nature and limits of human understanding. In 1969, Tony completed his PhD under the supervision of Donald Broadbent at the APU in Cambridge. Following this, he moved to Dundee before arriving at Glasgow in 1974 where he spent the rest of his academic career. He became the youngest Professor in the Department of Psychology there in 1982.

Tony represented everything we all hope for in an academic leader and mentor. He thought deeply about fundamental aspects of this science, ensured his research addressed questions that he viewed as of central importance and interest, and drew inspiration from a wealth of personal and cultural experiences and sources.

Tony regularly reminded his collaborators that there was no point in designing an elegant experiment if the question itself was not one of fundamental interest. Identify an interesting question, conduct the work to answer it and then convince the rest of the world why both the question and answer are important was very much the way Tony encouraged others to engage in science. Reflecting on Tony's many papers and books, it is interesting to note how ahead of the field he often was, carving his own path and expecting that others would follow in his footsteps (and many have done just this). Much of Tony's research centered on issues in the area that we would now label as experimental pragmatics, but he was doing so at the earliest stages of the development of the field. He focused on the need for language researchers to take account of context and to examine meaning that extended beyond the sentence, the role played by attention in language comprehension, and the importance of putting language in its literary and creative context. His Understanding Written Language book from 1981, co-authored by Simon Garrod, has had a long-lasting influence on the field and is still being cited 35 years later. This was followed by several other highly influential books including The Mind of Man: Models of Human Understanding in 1987, the edited volume The Nature and Limits of Human Understanding which emerged in 2003, and Mind, Brain and Narrative in 2012.

Tony had many interests outside academia reflecting his extensive hinterland. He was a highly engaged and enthusiastic musician; he owned an extensive collection of records and was a fan of jazz, the guitar, and the contemporary classical music produced by ECM Records. Tony also had a passion for model railway building and constructed many buildings for his railway inspired by the architecture of the places he knew (industrial archaeology is how he described it). A common experience for any collaborator of Tony's was the hillwalking around Scotland, often alongside the discussion of research ideas, experimental issues, and the challenges involved in understanding human cognition. Hillwalking with Tony was a very similar experience to that of having an academic conversation with him. You would never quite know where you were starting from, you were not always sure where you were going, but you knew that at the end the view would be magnificent.

Thanks for showing us the view, Tony.

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