Remembering Ray

Ray Dolby standing up, leaning against a desk in the foreground. In the background , sat down, is David Robinson.
Ray Dolby (1957) and David Robinson (1959) in Wandsworth Road, London in November 1968. 

David Robinson (1959) met Ray Dolby (1957) at Pembroke and worked with him for over forty years at Dolby Laboratories (producing Dolby Sound, Visual & Display Technology). Here, David recounts Ray as a man of innovation and social conscience, and one who led by actions, not words.

“My journey to reach the turning points in my life were often luck and serendipity as it has been for so many. I spent a year after school working at Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph, after which I was sure I wanted to study electronics. At that time such a course did not exist at Cambridge, so I chose Natural Sciences. The choice of Pembroke was made for me by my science teacher, it was a fortunate choice in many respects, not the least of which was to meet my future friend and mentor, Ray Dolby.

“Cambridge of course has many opportunities to make audio recordings, and I and a friend from Sidney Sussex founded the Cambridge University Tape Recording Society. The rules of the University demanded that societies have a Senior Member on the board. I had heard about an American in my College who was a keen recordist and went to see him. Ray kindly agreed to be our Senior Member – I should have already sensed back then that he had a philanthropic spirit by helping our society fly. My direct contact was mainly helping Ray secretly in the dead of night to lay microphone cables from his room across the roofs into the Chapel to make the first recordings of the Choir…

“After graduating Pembroke in 1962, I went to work for the BBC in the Engineering Department. Ray, after some years as a Junior Fellow, went off to India with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), during which time he invented his earlier video and audio noise reduction systems.

“In 1965 Ray and Dagmar drove – yes, drove! – from India to London in their VW Beetle and started Dolby Laboratories. He brought his prototype video unit to the BBC, and hence to my department, for evaluation and hopefully sales. Later that evening he called me and invited me to visit and listen to his audio unit – and offered me a job.

“During my time with Ray, I learnt a great deal about his character. He knew exactly what he hoped to achieve, and was confident that his ideas were novel and important. At a party in the New York Stock Exchange on the day Dolby Laboratories was listed, I said to him that he couldn’t have thought his company would come to that – and he replied, he always knew it would. A self-assuredness in the face of not always favourable odds is trait we could all use to help us get through these challenging times.

“Ray always said that you needed to be philanthropic, and as soon as he became financially secure, he followed that idea. Ray had a sense of a “debt” to society, which began as early as High School when he started work with a small 5-man team at Ampex which ended up with the world’s first practical video tape recorder, and culminating in a Marshall Scholarship which gave him the opportunity to come to Cambridge for his PhD.

“He showed his views on giving back more by his actions than words. Over the years he made many sizable contributions to projects, from numerous medical causes, to a new roof for the Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Yet, he always regarded Cambridge and his time at Pembroke as the high point of his life, which showed in his and the Dolby family’s philanthropic support of the College.

“Ray would undoubtedly be pleased that his legacy is inspiring countless alumni to begin their own philanthropic journeys. And particularly that his family is continuing to support developments for the College which will live on forever in Mill Lane.

“I personally think that the Mill Lane development is wonderful. If it had been finished when I was there I might have been able to live in College all my time instead of just one year! What memories await the new generations in an even closer community.”

David kindly also spoke at The Time & the Place Campaign launch back in 2017, to watch his fantastic speech on Ray, click here.