Victor Serebriakoff 1912 – 2000

Victor Serebriakoff 17/10/1912 – 1/1/2000.

Victor is best known for his work with Mensa and the Mensa Foundation for Gifted Children. But his work and influence extended beyond Mensa. He worked in the Timber trade after leaving the army in 1947, and became well known in that field mainly for the introduction of new technology into the processing of timber. His principle development was the automatic grading of timber for strength, which allowed for the more efficient structural use of timber. Stress grading machines were sold world wide. Towards the end of his business life he was working on a visual timber grader. He also developed methods of finger jointing structural timber, and a saw plane, a circular saw blade that left a smooth planed surface while cutting timber. In the 1960s he led a British delegation to Russia where a conference was being held to discuss the process of metrication of the Timber trade.

Victor wrote many books, some on the timber trade, some on Mensa and its history, some about educating gifted children and many puzzle books. Many of these books were translated into several languages. The work about which he felt the greatest sense of achievement is his book called “Brain”. In this book he sets out a theory of how the brain operates, using a poly hierarchical system of nodes that learn patterns by adjusting their sensitivity to varying input patterns. The book sets out how the poly hierarchical system could be used in organisations, where the nodes are people or units. Attempts have been made over the last 15 years or so to write a computer program using the ideas from the book, and recent work undertaken by David Uings, looks very promising. I have been told that the ideas contained in the book were ahead of their time and that many of the points made in the book are being accepted by people working in the field now. The book was published in 1975, though Victor annotated the book to the effect that it had been written in 1964.

Victor joined Mensa in 1949, after encouragement from his first wife, Mary. At that time Mensa was a small group of active members out of a few hundred members in total. He did not get heavily involved at that time, being perhaps more concerned with his young family. Then, while pregnant with their second child, Mary was diagnosed with cancer of the tong. Mary died in July 1952 after just 3 years of marriage and two children.

During Mary’s illness Victor had been assisted by Win Rouse, a Lady Almoner, or what would now be referred to as a social worker. Coincidentally Victor had met Win before – at Mensa meetings. After Mary’s death Victor developed a relationship with Win, and they married in October 1953.

Victors children went to stay with Mary’s mother in Southport, near Liverpool and stayed with her for the next 5 years. This allowed Victor with Win’s help to spend time on Mensa.

Victor’s account of his involvement with the organisation of Mensa is that Jo Wilson, the then chairman, at one of the meetings, suggested that Mensa should be dropped saying “Lets face it we are no more than a group of friends meeting for dinners”. Victor said it was a shame, and Jo said well it’s up to you then.

Victor started by placing adverts and was overwhelmed with the response. Systems were set up to manage the member ship enquiries, and an organisation was slowly built. It was very hard work for them, I remember that at one stage they were marking I.Q. tests at home themselves, and organising the Mensa Annual General Meeting from home as well.

Gradually though Mensa grew to a point where it could support paid staff. Mensa continued to grow and Mensa’s were starting up in many different countries. Mensa always attracted publicity and Victor was often on radio and television through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, in different countries.

Eventually Victor was elected as International President of Mensa, an office that he still held at his death. In the early 1990s Victor developed prostate cancer. He fought against it, with various treatments and surgery, but is eventually claimed him. He was working on his writings right up to December 1999. He managed to finish a revision of his “Brain” book. He died at about 10am on new years day. That was his last ambition, to get to the new millennium, he just made it!

Mark Serebriakoff