James Martin, Technology Consultant and Oxford Benefactor, Dies at 79
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: July 2, 2013
James Martin, a British technology expert, author and prognosticator who viewed mankind’s onrushing future with alarm and excitement and used his considerable fortune to address his concerns, died on June 24 near his home in Bermuda. He was 79.
He drowned after having a heart attack while swimming off his private island, his stepdaughter Leila Larijani said.
Mr. Martin began his career working with first-generation computers at I.B.M. in the 1950s, became influential in the field of information technology through his prodigious writing, and established a school at Oxford to study the problems and opportunities confronting the 21st-century world.
His personal Web site lists more than 100 titles, ranging from 1960s primers on teleprocessing and designing and programming systems, to works of informed soothsaying, like “The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow,” (1978), which foresaw a world plugged into a computer network.
He was a widely known information technology consultant, whose London business became an international company known as Headstrong, which caters to the financial services industry. He conducted hundreds of five-day seminars for executives on the link between technology and business.
More recently his interest was in identifying global problems — climate change, overpopulation, environmental withering — that have been worsened by past technologies and that he asserted could be addressed by new ones.
In a book, “The Meaning of the 21st Century,” and a film he made in conjunction with it, Mr. Martin argued that the human race had only a short time to change its wasteful ways before the planet was irreparably harmed. The technology to solve the problems is either available or developing; what is missing is broad education and political will, he said.
“A naïve view of the past is that technology gives us mastery over nature,” he said in the film. “A more appropriate view is that advanced technology causes us to need even more advanced technology in order to survive.”
In 2005, Mr. Martin gave $100 million to the University of Oxford, his alma mater, to establish what was then called the James Martin 21st Century School, aimed at promoting interdisciplinary research on global issues. In 2009, Mr. Martin, the single most generous benefactor in the university’s history, agreed to give as much as $50 million more if the sum were matched by outside donations; by the next year, it was. The school, now known as the Oxford Martin School, focuses on four areas: health and medicine, energy and the environment, technology and society, and ethics and governance.
He also was a benefactor of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, which is affiliated with Middlebury College in Vermont. At his death, he had finished a book about weapons of mass destruction, “The War and Peace of the Nuclear Age,” which his wife, Lillian, said she would publish on the Internet and make accessible at no charge.
“He really, really wanted to make things better,” Ms. Martin said in an interview on Monday. “Going into a village and feeding people wasn’t his thing. He wanted to make an impact from the top.”
James Thomas Martin was born on Oct. 19, 1933, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, England, northeast of Birmingham. His father was a Civil Service clerk. He earned a full scholarship to Oxford, where he studied physics and pursued his interests in writing and philosophy. He served in the British Army in Cyprus before beginning his business career at I.B.M., which sent him to New York. He worked on developing an airline reservations system and other computing projects.
Mr. Martin’s first two marriages, to Charity Anders and Carma McClure, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Lillian Casey, whom he met in the 1980s and married in 2004, and his stepdaughter Ms. Larijani, he is survived by a daughter he had with Ms. Anders, Corinthia Richards; three other stepchildren, David and Jayron Larijani and Sheida Matern; and two grandchildren.
Known for being shy, he studied public speaking while at I.B.M. and “became dynamic on stage,” his wife said. He loved Manhattan, where he had a home, but in the 1990s, seeking a quieter retreat, he bought Agar’s Island in Bermuda, she said. He also had a home in Waitsfield, Vt.
“I’d like it known that he had a good sense of humor; it was very British, but he loved slapstick,” Ms. Martin said. “And he loved having a big family around him, a lot of people talking around the dinner table. At first he didn’t; no one had ever interrupted him before. But he grew to love it.”