James E. McPherson’s extended family in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and throughout the Cornell community joined his relatives yesterday in Ives Hall to pay tribute to their cherished friend and advisor.
McPherson, ILR assistant dean and director of the Office of Student Services (OSS), died last Wednesday after 24 years at the ILR School. He was 64 years old.
More than 350 people filled the seats of Ives Hall’s largest auditorium to hear testimonials from the staff, faculty and students who worked with McPherson. Rev. Janet Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work and Rev. Dr. Douglas Green of the First Congregational Church in Ithaca also offered remembrances of McPherson.
“Jim didn’t just counsel students, he also counseled faculty and staff,” said Prof. George Boyer, labor economics. “He was a very busy man but he always had time for me, and he always had time for other people.”
Boyer shared fond memories of McPherson as a colleague and a valued friend. Along with Profs. Ileen DeVault, collective bargaining, law and history, and Martin Wells, social statistics, Boyer and McPherson ate lunch together each day for the past ten years.
Boyer said that McPherson was like a tree that stood for the ILR School. Anybody who knew McPherson knew they could lean on him for support, Boyer said.
“I feel like there was a big windstorm last week,” said Boyer, as he described confronting McPherson’s death. “We all woke up, and Jim was gone.”
In addition to his responsibilities as assistant dean and director of OSS, McPherson acted as ILR director of teaching and served on the School’s Teaching Advisory Committee. Boyer praised McPherson for encouraging faculty members to be great teachers as well as great researchers.
“Jim has now passed the torch on to us, and it’s up to us to put his many lessons into practice,” Boyer said.
Speaking on behalf of McPherson’s long-time colleagues, Laura Lewis, OSS associate director, described how McPherson nurtured a family environment at work and in the ILR community.
“Now that Jim has gone, there is a great desire to turn to Jim for guidance and support,” Lewis said.
McPherson’s loss reverberated with current students and alumni around the country, many of whom forwarded letters of condolence to the Dean’s Office and OSS.
Students in the Cornell-in-Washington program sent a message to be read at the memorial yesterday, and at last week’s presentation of the William B. Groat Alumni Award honoring ILR’s most distinguished alumnus, Paul Salvatore ’81 — this year’s recipient — recognized McPherson in his acceptance speech.
ILR Dean Edward Lawler returned to Cornell from sabbatical yesterday to attend the memorial.
“Jim McPherson had a very tough job, and he accomplished it with distinction and also with grace, patience and wit,” Lawler said. “The generations of students whose paths crossed with his here in this School are the prime testament to the enormity of his contributions and our loss.”
McPherson sought to establish a relationship with every ILR student and possessed an uncanny knack for remembering students’ names and faces, many of the speakers said.
Ethan Fogg ’02 described an experience that many ILR students shared, that of turning a corner in Ives Hall and unexpectedly running into McPherson.
“No matter what crisis was going on in your life you would slow down when you saw him, and you were just compelled to spend time with him,” Fogg said.
“[The memorial] was beautiful. Every single person who spoke had a private personal story [about McPherson]. He was one of those people for whom everyone got a special time,” Fogg said.
OSS has devoted a portion of its Web site to information about community support meetings for those who are dealing with McPherson’s death. Details are available at www.ilr.cornell.edu/studentservices/. Visitors to the Web site can also locate a memory book that is dedicated to McPherson.
In lieu of flowers, McPherson’s family requests that memorial gifts be sent to The James E. McPherson Scholarship Fund, overseen by the ILR Dean’s Office.a
Archived article by Harrison Leavens