Richard Lee Branham, Professor Emeritus of Interaction Design at KU, passed peacefully February 19, 2020, after a short battle with a rare, aggressive cancer. He spent his last full day visiting with former students and close friends, the epitome of grace and dignity. Known for his empathy, generosity, intellectual vigor and enthusiasm, he will be missed by a wide circle of friends in Lawrence, across the U.S., and around the world.
Richard Branham was born July 25, 1940 in Neosho, MO, the eldest son of Lester Henry Branham and Marguerite Louise (Blinn) Branham. He spent 50 years researching his genealogy, tracing his English roots back to the 1500’s in Yorkshire, England (Bramham Park) and his Blinn roots back to French Hugenots and several ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. He loved history and culture; genealogy allowed him to study both. With his wife Alisa, Richard taught genealogy classes the past four years at the Watkins Museum in Lawrence.
Always learning, always a teacher, Richard was curious about the world and grabbed every opportunity to gain and share knowledge. He held a BFA and MFA from The University of Kansas, as well as a MS from the Illinois Institute of Design in Chicago. He had a significant professional career and continued to be a design consultant throughout his 44-year tenure at KU. He continued to work with doctoral students after his retirement in 2017 at the age of 76. He was a dynamic and dedicated teacher.
In Chicago, he founded the Information and Design Systems Division of Unimark International, one of the largest design firms in the world in the 1960s. Following that, he founded Design Planning Group. He was a pioneer in design systems, human-centered interaction design and large-scale wayfinding projects (Sears Tower, Chicago; Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia; St. Luke’s Health Systems) and branding projects (Ford; JC Penney; Target) and small scale wayfinding-navigation and interaction for mobile information appliances (Tatung Corp., Taiwan). He published, lectured and consulted in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. He was interested in the way people use interactive devices to create meaning in their lives and to navigate in the physical and virtual world.
A charismatic and truly cross-disciplinary professor, he worked with students in Education, Architecture, Communications, and Psychology, in addition to Design. He was the principal advisor to 80+ graduate students and maintained close relationships with hundreds of KU graduates. His mantra “design is design is design” expressed his broad academic interests and expansive worldview. In October 2016, 65 of Richard’s former students traveled from across the U.S. for a retirement party at his home, celebrating his influence on their professional and personal lives. He was so proud of his students.
Active in Boy Scouts for three decades, Richard served as Cubmaster, Troop Scoutmaster and District Commissioner. He emphasized a boy-led troop and was a strong supporter of high adventure programs. He spent several summers at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, leading high adventure treks and training adults in the backcountry. Richard followed the Boy Scout Oath and Law; he was especially kind and brave.
Richard is survived by his wife of 28 years, Alisa Palmer Branham, and his step-son, Henry Travis Paustian, Lawrence, KS. Richard had two sons from his first marriage to Ruth Gedroic: Marc Branham (wife Lori Sandholdt and granddaughter Molly Branham), Gainesville, FL, and Aric Branham, Cedar Park, TX. Richard’s three siblings survive as well: brother Ron Branham (sister-in-law Carol) Nevada, MO, and sisters Caroline Barratt of Derby, KS and Polly Gilbert of Neosho, MO.
Richard was cremated with his most cherished object: a small water buffalo shaped of mud, given to him by a young boy in Africa about 50 years ago – a symbol of generosity, youth, nature and international culture. His ashes will be interred at Pioneer Cemetery on the KU campus. A joyous celebration of Richard’s life is being planned for late spring or early summer. The family requests no flowers but encourages you to make a donation to the Watkins Museum or the progressive organization of your choice.