April 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 4

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Obituaries

Deaths

Obituaries

John Colombotos
1929-2012

John Colombotos, our long-time colleague in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences (SMS), Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, passed away at age 82 on February 12, 2012, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was born March 1, 1929.

John received his PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan, where he also worked at its Survey Research Center. His MA and BA in sociology were from Columbia, where he was a translator and research assistant at the Bureau of Applied Social Research. After brief stints at American University’s Bureau of Social Science Research, the Medical & Health Research Association in New York (now Public Health Solutions) and Hunter College, City University of New York, John resumed his affiliation with Columbia in 1961. He joined what was then the Division of Administrative Medicine to work with Jack Elinson on the pioneering community health study in Hunterdon, NJ. John became a founding faculty member in the Division of SMS, advancing to Associate Professor in 1970 and Acting Head of SMS from 1977-79. He remained with the growing department until his retirement from full-time teaching and research in 2001.

John’s most important contribution to sociology was in survey research and health professions—notably medicine and later nursing. His substantive findings on physicians’ attitudes toward government’s role in healthcare financing and delivery, and, subsequently, toward treating AIDS patients, were extremely timely. His surveys were in the field, and each topic was newsworthy and hotly-contested. Even in those dynamic news contexts, John took time to develop theoretically-derived measures, allowing him to explore the underpinnings of professionals’ attitudes that remained relevant long after situational specifics had shifted.

John’s theoretical bent dominated his 1969 American Sociological Review article reporting results from his ingeniously designed “before-after” survey of doctors’ attitudes toward the then-new Medicare law. John had recognized (and convinced the federal funding agency) that he had a fortuitous opportunity to benefit from a “natural experiment.” Shortly before Medicare became law, John had gathered New York State (NYS) physicians’ attitudes toward a range of health care issues. Among those were key features of what would soon take shape as Medicare. John designed two random subgroups of the NYS sample for a re-interview either in the pre- or the post-implementation period. Thus, he could examine not only whether physicians’ attitudes changed, but also assess competing theories about the effect of sheer “legitimacy” apart from actual features of a law to account for observed changes. As he wrote, the driving theme for his rich interpretations was deep interest in “the role of law as an instrument of social change.” 

That theme appeared with broader scope in John’s 1986 book with Corinne Kirchner, Physicians and Social Change. The book also addressed enduring questions about the relation of childhood and work-related socialization to political and professional orientations. In 1988, John’s cumulative research experience on professional socialization was enlisted by the Journal of Health & Social Behavior for the Guest Editor role of a special issue on “Continuities in the Sociology of Medical Education.” In the 1990s, John’s model of inquiry was adapted to gathering evidence on the emerging issue of concern about our nation’s physicians’ and nurses’ attitudes toward patients with AIDS.

On a par with John’s theoretical concerns was sensitivity to practical methodological issues; where possible, he embedded tests into his study designs, yielding single- or co-authored articles on comparison of in-person and telephone interviews, on response effects of interviewer characteristics, focusing on gender and on the social distance from respondents. John, notably, was an early user of randomized vignettes in the AIDS study.

In addition to his scholarly achievements, John had a great love of sports, whether playing squash with colleagues or watching football while at the office on a Sunday afternoon on a small portable TV. As one former graduate student recalled, “I was always impressed that his was always the last light off on the SMS floor on weekdays, but I was really in awe, and perhaps a little intimidated, to see that light on almost  every Saturday and Sunday.”

With his dense head of hair and woodsman’s beard, John presented an imposing figure. The exquisitely placid voice that came from that frame—always clad in khaki pants and an oxford shirt rolled up two turns—would come as a surprise. The genuine warmth beneath that imposing exterior was a reassuring welcome to SMS for many generations of new faculty and students. John’s soft-spoken and precise manner was beloved by the many colleagues and students who had the privilege of working with him.

Corinne Kirchner,  Peter Messeri, Amy Fairchil, Columbia University

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John Pock
1926-2012

John Pock, Professor Emeritus at Reed College, died on February 18, 2012, at the age of 86. He was born March 22, 1926.

John served as a combat infantryman in the U.S. army during World War II in the Philippines. He received an AB at the University of Chicago in 1947, a BA from Roosevelt University in 1949, and an MA in 1952 from the University of Illinois. He received a PhD in 1956 from the University of Illinois. He was an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois in 1954-55. In 1955, he came to Reed College where he was funded by a Ford Foundation Internship Program. He became an Assistant Professor at Reed College in 1956 in the Sociology and Psychology Departments. John was made an Associate Professor of Sociology in 1960 and became a full professor in 1969. He remained at Reed until his retirement in 1998.

John came to Reed on a one-year contract in 1955. He later reported that he decided to stay because he was delighted to work with undergraduates who were smart, serious, and took risks. In his 43 year career at Reed, John helped over 100 students to write theses in Sociology and by one count, 69 of these students went on to get PhD’s in Sociology. He also had a significant influence on a number of students in other Departments at Reed who went on to graduate school in Sociology.

John was certainly one of the most significant teachers in American sociology in the past half century. He is arguably the most important one who only taught undergraduates. Given that almost no undergraduates go to college thinking they will major in sociology, it is useful to consider how John got students interested in sociology.

John combined the highest and most demanding standards of scholarship with a fierce loyalty and compassion for his students. John asked that each of us take responsibility for ourselves and our intellectual lives. He challenged us to take ourselves seriously if we wanted others to take us seriously. He encouraged us to overcome our personal insecurities and become part of a larger intellectual discussion.

John’s pedagogy embodied this philosophy. Students were expected to be collective producers of their education, not docile consumers. For a large part of his teaching career at Reed, each student in one of John’s seminars read different materials than the other students and took reading notes. They exchanged these notes and the notes were the materials for the seminar. One student would act as note taker at each class session and they would distribute the notes before the next seminar. Students were expected to defend the position of the scholar whose work they had read.

John had a rule that if a single member of the seminar failed to show up for class, the seminar would not meet. He argued that each member of our collectivity was important and therefore the collective could not be constituted if everyone was not there. This pushed students to take themselves and their colleagues seriously. In two years of taking seminars with John, I do not remember a single occasion where class was not held.

Students found this experience either terrifying or exhilarating (sometimes both). John did not like mushy thinking and demanded that we do better because we were capable of doing so. We all learned to read and argue. Most of all we all learned to take ideas seriously and came to love intellectual life. What John did was not for everyone. Many students were turned off by it and bailed out of his classes. With the passing of time, John despaired of what he saw as the dilution and consumerization of education, sensing that his pedagogical style was increasingly at odds with the zeitgeist. But for those of us who took up John’s challenge, John gave us a vision that opened up the world in a way that changed all of us for life (what some of us jokingly describe as being Pock-marked).

John’s students have worked to honor John in several ways. First, in 1982, the American Sociological Association recognized John’s achievements in teaching by awarding him the Distinguished Contribution to Teaching Citation. Then, James Baron, David Grusky, and Donald Treiman organized a festschrift volume for John entitled “Social Differentiation and Social Inequality: Essays in Honor of John Pock” (Westview Press, 1996). The papers in the festschrift were presented at the ASA Annual Meeting in a session where over 100 people attended including John. Finally, in 2000, a group of former students honored John by endowing the John C. Pock Chair, currently held by Marc Schneiberg at Reed College.

Sincehis passing, there has been a flurry of messages circulating amongst his former students. John profoundly affected each of our lives. Our communications are filled with these strong feelings and the recognition that John continues to be in each of us. We who knew him and were affected by him have never been the same. He is missed.   

Neil Fligstein. University of California-Berkley

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Suzanne E. Szabo

Suzanne E. Szabo, known as “Z” or “ZeZe,” passed away March 1, 2012. An accomplished applied sociologist, Suzanne was founder and president of Organizational Research & Consulting (ORC) in Washington, DC, where she lived and played continuing leadership roles with the Historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood association. She was also Senior Research Associate with Group Dimensions International (GDI) in DC and Maine.

Always on the cutting edge, Suzanne worked most recently as a subcontractor for the IRS transition management efforts to facilitate electronic filing and enhance cybersecurity.

The focus of Suzanne’s work always was to improve organizational performance through her superb meeting facilitation skills, targeted needs assessments, and careful evaluations. She was known for her ability to move groups toward actionable strategic plans.

In addition to her organizational development and evaluation work, Suzanne also developed training plans based on needs assessments of internal and external stakeholders. At ORC, her clients included the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, American Statistical Association, Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts, National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Ernst & Young, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, and the Defense Information Systems Agency. Through GDI, she conducted focus groups and facilitation for the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Rhode Island Blood Center, and the Rhode Island Department of Youth and Families. She was also co-trainer for GDI’s TeamWork training workshops.

Suzanne designed, facilitated, and instituted a five-year strategic plan for one of the largest chapters of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-Los Angeles). She served on the advisory panel for the ASTD/Hay research focus group project, “Global, Business and Financial Skills for HR Executives: Are These the Critical Skills that Contribute to Organizational Impact?”

A member of ASA since 1979, Suzanne was a member of ASA’s Sociologists in Business Committee in the 1990s and the Applied Section of the ASA, 1996-1999. She was also a member of the Association of Applied and Clinical Sociologists, the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Washington Evaluators, and the Washington Statistical Society.

Suzanne combined extraordinary gifts in organizational development with strong research skills to help groups—from small neighborhood associations to large bureaucratic systems—work infinitely better than they otherwise might have. Her talents and her laughter will be remembered and greatly missed.

Janet Mancini Billson, Group Dimensions International

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