To many who knew him, James E. McPherson was the human face of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. As the School’s welcome lecturer during freshman orientation and the person who announced seniors at their graduation ceremony, McPherson occupied a central role in the lives of countless ILR students.
A popular and respected advisor for 24 years, McPherson was suddenly missing from the Office of Student Services (OSS) earlier in the week when ILR students and faculty members were abruptly notified yesterday that McPherson had suffered a critical head injury in his home Sunday morning.
Surrounded by his family at the Arnot Ogden Hospital in Elmira, N.Y., McPherson died Wednesday afternoon. He was in his early 60s.
McPherson is survived by his wife Carolyn, his daughter Andrea, his son Scott and three grandchildren.
A private service for family members is scheduled for tomorrow, and McPherson’s friends and colleagues have prepared a memorial service for the ILR community on Sunday at 2 pm in Ives Hall, Room 305.
OSS has also arranged for several community support meetings to help ILR students who are dealing with McPherson’s death. The first of these meetings will take place at 2:30 pm this afternoon in the ILR undergraduate student lounge. Students are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts and feelings about McPherson.
Subsequent meetings are being planned for early next week, and OSS will provide details of those group gatherings once the plans are finalized.
Few individuals have had the impact on the School of Industrial and Labor Relations that McPherson had. He joined the ILR School in 1978 as associate director of the Office of Student Services (OSS). In 1984, he was appointed assistant dean and promoted to director of OSS.
Then in the fall of 1994, McPherson was named director of teaching and head of the School’s Teaching Advisory Committee.
“He was the person who encouraged our faculty to really focus on teaching,” said Prof. Ileen DeVault, collective bargaining, law and history.
As director of teaching — a role few students would have seen him in — McPherson helped establish a new ILR curriculum about ten years ago. He developed the current academic program for the School, which emphasizes foundations, skills and professional courses.
McPherson also taught a popular career development course over the years, and he was the primary organizer of the ILR freshman colloquia.
“It’s hard to imagine the place without him,” said DeVault, a close friend of McPherson’s since she joined the ILR faculty.
McPherson would greet incoming freshmen and their families at the School’s welcome lecture during orientation. Then he would build relationships with students throughout their time in the ILR School. He had an amazing ability to remember students in the School, according to ILR Acting Dean Robert Smith.
“If he didn’t remember the names of every ILR student, he certainly remembered a lot of them,” Smith said. “In a way it’s easy to find a person to advise students, [but] it is going to be difficult to replace someone who had his particular collection of skills.”
Smith counted himself among the many ILR students and faculty members who sought out McPherson for advice.
Smith announced yesterday that the school will establish a memorial fund in McPherson’s name. At the family’s request the money will go toward aiding ILR students, Smith said.
Archived article by Matthew Hirsch