James David Wright (“Jim”) was born November 6, 1947 in Logansport, Indiana; he passed away on April 29, 2019 at home in St. Pete Beach, Florida, surrounded by his family and pets. He will be remembered for his intelligence, wit, kindness and generosity; as an educator, author, scholar, researcher and mentor; as a husband, brother, father, grandfather, cousin and friend; and for his fabulous cooking.
Jim graduated from Logansport High School in 1965, earned a B. A. in Philosophy (with honors) from Purdue University in 1969, and both an M.S. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1970 and 1973 respectively.
Dr. Wright was a distinguished professor of Sociology with a long career. He worked as a Professor of Sociology 1973–1988 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (where he also directed the Social and Demographic Research Institute), 1988–2001 at Tulane University as the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations (where he was also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology), and 2001–2018 as the Provost Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Central Florida (where he also directed the Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Survey Research Laboratory). From 2013–2018 he was designated as a Pegasus Professor, UCF’s highest faculty honor. He was considered by all who worked with him to be an outstanding and unselfish colleague, collaborator and mentor.
He was a prolific writer, publishing 30 books, 200 major scholarly articles and papers, and nearly 100 other shorter works. The topics of his writings ranged widely, including: American politics, natural disasters, guns and violence, poverty and homelessness, drugs and addiction, NASCAR, and the states where he lived. He also wrote on methods of survey research, the theory and practice of applied social research, and other methodological topics. Perhaps his most impressive scholarly accomplishment was serving as Editor-in-Chief for the second edition of Elsevier’s International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, a massive 26-volume reference book that won First Prize for Excellence in Reference Works (all fields) from the Association of American Publisher’s Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division PROSE Awards. Jim edited the scholarly journal Social Science Research from 1978 to 2014, a 36-year run that is the longest editorship on record in the field of Sociology.
Dr. Wright provided expert testimony before the U.S. Congress six times on the issues of gun control, crime, homelessness and public health. He has appeared on National Public Radio, various TV shows, and presented his works at countless conferences and institutions around the world.
Jim was a passionate advocate for the homeless with a long record of professional service to numerous non-profit organizations in Florida and Louisiana. He served on the Boards of Directors or in other prominent roles in the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, the Homeless Services Network, the Orlando Area Trust for the Homeless, Second Harvest Food Bank, HOPE Helps, and many others. Before moving to Florida, he was the director of the Tulane-Xavier Campus Affiliates Program, a collaboration between Tulane University, Xavier University, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the residents of the C.J. Peete public housing community in New Orleans.
He is survived by his wife Christine Ellen Stewart of St. Pete Beach, FL; his sister Nancy Jeanne Wright of Fort Wayne, IN; his son Matthew James Wright, daughter-in-law Stephanie Marie Akers-Wright, and grandson Desmond Matthew Akers-Wright of Stanford, CA; his son Derek William Wright and his honorary daughter-in-law Naomi Panina Kimmelman of Oakland, CA; and many cousins. He was predeceased by his parents James Farrel Wright and Helen Lorette Wright and by his brother Jon Kelley Wright.
Jim enjoyed writing, reading, travel, cooking, hosting parties, watching and writing about NASCAR races, riding around Pass-a-Grille in the golf cart with his wife, and spending time with his family.
A celebration of his life will be scheduled later this year at the University of Central Florida. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you do something kind or an act of service in Jim’s honor.
p.s. On April 30th, the Orlando Sentinel published ‘Florida State of Mind’ author James Wright has died.