February 2008 Issue Volume 36 Issue 2

to print a pagePrint This Page

Obituaries

Deaths

T. Quentin Evans, professor emeritus of sociology and social work at Manchester College, died on November 18 at the age of 85 in North Manchester, IN.

Karol Krotki, a demographer and distinguished professor at the University of Alberta, died on May 15, 2007, at the age of 85.

Chet Meeks, formerly of Georgia State University, died from complications from colon cancer on January 11. He spent his last evening with his parents, who have been by his side almost continually over the past few months. He was 34.

Harold Orlans died peacefully at home in Bethesda, MD, on December 12, 2007. Harold had a productive career as a scholar and writer, especially on public policy issues related to scientific research and higher education.

Joel Tortenson, Augsburg College, died on October 18 at the age of 94 in Minneapolis, MN.

Obituaries

Miriam Johnson
1928–2007

Miriam Massey Johnson, Professor Emerita at the University of Oregon, died quietly after a short bout with lung cancer, on November 21, 2007.

Miriam was born January 12, 1928, in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Leola P. and Herbert N. Massey. Her father, a former liberal Baptist minister, taught sociology, including sociology of the family, at Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville.

After two years of college in Milledgeville, she transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in sociology. There she met Benton Johnson, her lifetime partner. After graduating in 1948 both she and Benton became graduate students in Harvard’s new Department of Social Relations. There she was exposed to cultural anthropology, the works of Freud and other depth psychologists, and the rapidly evolving theoretical framework of Talcott Parsons, who became her major mentor and the director of her dissertation. She developed a strong interest in gender roles and family relationships, which continued throughout her career. Her dissertation explored the expressive and instrumental value orientations of women undergraduates. She earned her PhD in 1955. She and Benton were married in Milledgeville on July 21, 1951. They had two children, a boy (Shannon) born in 1955 and a girl (Rebekah) in 1957.

Miriam finished her graduate work at a time when women were severely underrepresented in higher education. She taught temporarily at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (1951-53), but when Benton joined the faculty at the University of Oregon in 1957, the state’s nepotism law made it impossible for her to have a tenure-track job. At Oregon she published an article from her dissertation that became widely cited. For a few years she taught courses on an adjunct basis, but in the early ‘60s she dropped out of academic life, took courses in art, and became a skilled painter.

In 1972, inspired by the work of the new feminists, Miriam resumed her career of research and teaching. With the nepotism rule no longer in effect, she was awarded a tenure-track position in sociology at Oregon and retired in 1991 at the rank of professor. She published important new work and helped organize and direct the university’s Center for the Study of Women in Society.

Miriam’s intellectual depth and breadth shaped her unique contributions to sociology. Friends and colleagues say that she was one of the most broad-minded and well-read sociologists they’ve ever known. Her theoretical contributions combined insights from areas as diverse as biology, psychoanalysis, anthropology, functionalism, and feminism. She developed her ideas with an in-depth examination of the classics and the original writings in these fields. Her contributions to sociology were both theoretical and empirical. She always saw sociology as a science; and her former students recall how she advocated the careful testing of hypotheses, doing so with precision, care, and an open mind.

Miriam’s writings helped move sociological understandings of family, gender, development, and male dominance to new depths. Her final book, Strong Mothers, Weak Wives (1988), was the culmination of her years of work. Building on both her empirical work and her vast knowledge of various areas, she examined processes and structures that underlie patterns of male dominance. She showed how gender differences get translated into gender inequalities and how this process relates to the structure of the nuclear family and to the social organization of modern societies.

In addition to the originality and precision of her theoretical and empirical writings, Miriam’s colleagues recall the joy and fun that she brought to her work, her teaching, and her collaborations with others. Laughter was a daily part of Miriam’s life; and generosity, love, optimism, and simple fun permeated her interactions. Miriam always looked for what was good in a situation and tried to make the best of whatever came along.

Miriam’s family was extremely important to her. A picture of her beloved “Benny,” truly the love of her life, always sat on her desk. Her children were at the center of her thoughts; and she was very proud of their intellectual and creative accomplishments. More than most of us, Miriam was able to keep balance in her life. She baked excellent bread, was a highly skilled bridge player, and a talented artist. We can all learn from her example. The world would no doubt be better if we could all have a smidgen of Miriam’s kindness, joy, and optimism as well as her basic common sense. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her. small_green

Jean Stockard and Benton Johnson, University of Oregon-Eugene

Back to Top of Page

 

Back to Front Page of Footnotes