In the presence of a great psychologist - Boris Semeonoff

Tommy MacKay recorded what may have been the last interview with Boris Semeonoff; on the first anniversary of his death, we publish part of that interview here.
ONE Saturday in February 1998, I sat on the early Glasgow to London flight. As breakfast arrived, the person next to me began some light conversation. ‘Where are you off to?’ she asked. ‘I’m going to a meeting of The British Psychological Society — I’m a psychologist,’ I replied. Suddenly, I became self-conscious as I looked at the book lying open on my lap. There, unmistakably, was a large picture of a Rorschach ink-blot. Doubtless, every stereotype the world has of ‘a psychologist’ was confirmed in an instant. My interest in the Rorschach at the time stemmed from an interview I was about to hold with Boris Semeonoff — a name long associated with personality assessment, particularly projective techniques. Early in March, I arrived at his Edinburgh house. It was just before his 88th birthday, and I found him characteristically busy. ‘I have a book to review just now …’ I had last seen Semeonoff the previous month at a Scottish Branch meeting, and I would next see him at the Annual Conference in Brighton at the end of March. Sadly, that was to be the final time. My interview with him was, I expect, his last. The recording is pleasantly punctuated with the chiming of ancient clocks and the chink of fine bone china as Catherine, his wife and life-long companion, set out the mid-morning tea and scones. Semeonoff was a quiet and humble man, who spoke with great modesty of what the world viewed as his achievements. Nevertheless, he occupied a very significant position in British psychology, becoming not only President of the Society but also President of the Psychology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and one of the eight founder members of the Experimental Psychology Society. In addition, he made a major contribution to his own field of study. At the end of the interview I felt that I had been in the presence of a great psychologist. When he died on 2 August 1998 the Society and psychology lost one of its distinguished figures.

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