May/June Issue • Volume 42 • Issue 5

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Rodney M. Coe

Rodney M. Coe passed from this life to the next on March 14, 2014, at 80 years of age. He is survived by the woman of his dreams, Elaine Elwell Coe, to whom he was joyfully wed for 59 years, by their four children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, all of whom he deeply loved.

Rodney received his PhD in sociology from Washington University (WUSL) in St. Louis in 1962, and was on the faculty at his alma mater when the great rift between Laud Humphreys and Alvin Gouldner exploded into fisticuffs. As did many of his colleagues, Rodney resigned when Gouldner (who was alleged to have started the clash) was exonerated by the WUSL Chancellor. Saint Louis University was fortunate enough to immediately land Rodney, where he joined the Department of Community Medicine and remained until he retired 29 years later, serving for the last 10 years as Department Head.

Over the course of his career, Rodney amassed a record of professional scholarship that was simply outstanding. He received 20 research grants, and from that work he wrote or edited 22 books and published 72 journal articles. But it is not the quantity of his work that is most impressive. Among Rodney’s books are landmark volumes that helped to frame the nascent fields of medical sociology (two editions of the Sociology of Medicine, 1970 and 1978), community medicine (Community Medicine: Some New Perspectives, 1978), social gerontology (Medical Care for the Aged: From Social Problem to Federal Program, with Hank Brehm, 1980), and geriatric medicine (Fundamentals of Geriatric Medicine, with Ronald Cape and Isadore Rossman, 1983).

Among Rodney’s many articles is the classic 1965 piece in the American Journal of Public Health on psychosocial factors that affect the use of community health resources. Then there was the first-rate series that appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Inquiry, Medical Care, Public Health Reports, the Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, and the American Journal of Public Health on the emergence of Medicare, organized medicine’s reaction to it, and its short-term effects. Rodney’s 1970 pieces on the growth of established professions (Journal of Health and Social Behavior) and on cultural vs. situational explanations of health behavior among the poor (Social Science Quarterly) were intriguing and provocative. And of course one would be remiss not to note the groundbreaking 1980s series that appeared in the Journal of Medical Education, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and the Sociology of Health and Illness on the emerging and shifting dyadic coalitions involved when the older patient, her caregiver, and physician interact. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were his series of papers in Behavior, Health and Aging and the Journal of Community Health that empirically assessed and refined the sense of coherence concept in the context of morbidity and mortality.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1996 Rodney received the Leo G. Reeder Award from the Medical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association, its highest honor. His Reeder Award Lecture, published in 1997 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, was titled “The Magic of Science and the Science of Magic: an Essay on the Process of Healing,” and it may have been Rodney’s most thoughtful article ever.

Rodney championed the role of medical sociology and its value in other professional societies, and carried that fight into important levels of the federal government. In terms of other professional societies, Rodney served as Secretary of the Gerontological Society of America and was twice the Co-Chair for its annual meeting program committee. In terms of the federal government, Rodney served on public advisory committees in the Institute of Medicine, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Pan American Health Organization. Perhaps most importantly, Rodney has served on numerous study sections for the NIMH, the Administration on Aging, the National Cancer Institute, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he was a member of the National Advisory Council for the National Institute on Aging. In these roles he fought for the recognition and acceptance of medical sociology as a legitimate endeavor worthy of substantial research support.

Rodney was also an extraordinary mentor. For Rodney, his trainees, be they graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, or junior faculty, came first, last, and always. All of the success and accolades accrued to them, and if something didn’t work out, well then it was his error for not trying harder. Rodney believed that the role of the mentor was to provide every opportunity to trainees, and to give them all of the encouragement and support possible. But he never did their work for them. Rather, Rodney simply inspired them to do it themselves. For some trainees this took longer than for others. But it always happened. Rodney was patient and loyal to a fault with his trainees.

But the academic accomplishment that was most meaningful to Rodney was his teaching of medical students. We all teach, of course, but teaching medical sociology or aging and the life course has relatively little if any effect on the health care delivery system. If you want to change the future of health care, the most important vineyard to work in is training future physicians and medical school faculty. For three decades at Saint Louis University, that is what Rodney did. He brought the principles, precepts, and values of medical sociology to life for nearly 4,000 student-physicians. And although they certainly did not all wind up with a sociological imagination, they did all have an appreciation for the import of social factors in health, illness, and the delivery of health care. Now that’s impact!

Fredric D. Wolinsky, the University of Iowa, and James C. Romeis, Saint Louis University

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James “Jim” McAllister

A humble social justice champion, Jim McAllister passed away peacefully on March 29, 2014, at the age of 70 after a short illness. Jim completed his PhD at Michigan State University (Lansing, MI) and returned to his home Australia in 1989 where he was a lecturer in Sociology at Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia), and later at Central Queensland University (Rockhampton, Queensland) until his retirement in 2008.

A fundamental belief that all humans are equally worth respect, freedom, and quality of life energized Jim’s prolific projects. Jim was known as a tireless advocate in the pursuit of social justice in both his professional and personal life choices, including work for Dying with Dignity Queensland, his rural sociological research for Central Queensland University, and his involvement in the National Tertiary Education Union. Jim prided himself in pursuing a life filled with humility, humor, fairness, and fighting for what is good and right. Firmly committed to social justice and abhorring systems that arbitrarily determined a person’s worth on the basis of wealth and power, he actively worked with ordinary people to fight for social change. His work included sociological analysis of the sugar cane industry, paid-labor/farm workers, unions, and the class consequences of rural restructuring on global and local levels. He also fought for people who wish to die with dignity. Honoring his views of equality, he did not allow himself to be referred to with the PhD or doctor status. 

Following his retirement Jim and his wife Judi lived on a small rural block in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where he continued his interest in union activities and human rights issues while developing his hobbies of lapidary and horticulture and permaculture. Jim’s legacy will continue to influence the work of Dying with Dignity Queensland. This beloved, gentle, and “very decent human being” left the world a better place because he was here.

Yvonne Vissing, Salem State University

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