Former SBS Dean T.O. Wilkinson Dies at 76

By Sarah R. Buchholz
Chronicle staff

January 14, 2000

A life of service to the University and the community of Amherst came to an end Dec. 21 when Thomas O. Wilkinson, 76, retired professor of Sociology and former dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences, died.

A recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1963, he taught at the University from 1953 until his retirement in 1988. He was also a visiting lecturer at Mount Holyoke College from 1954 to 1961, and he served the town of Amherst as a town meeting member for most of the last 16 years.

Known as a consensus-builder both on- and off-campus, he was a significant figure on campus during the years when the University's population burgeoned from 8,200 to its present size.

"T.O. did an immense amount for the University," said Hilda Golden, retired professor of Sociology. "He was a very good consensus-builder, someone who saw the function of the University as doing a lot for the state.

"He placed an emphasis on seeing the University as an organization that needs to serve students, faculty and society and less of an emphasis on climbing the professional ladder. He was a very good manager in the ideal sense of getting people to work together."

He served as head of the department of Sociology and Anthropology from 1969-71 and as dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences from 1976-84. When he stepped down from being dean in 1984, it was with the good of the school in mind.

"I have been here [in the deanship] eight years, and during that period of time, I've run out of creative ideas," he said. "I want to give somebody new a look at it."

Know as approachable by students and colleagues alike, he also served as director of the Population and Research Institute, coordinating dean of the Bachelor's Degree in Individual Concentration (BDIC) program, representative to the Five-College curriculum, adviser to the Class of '65, acting chair of the Asian Studies Program, campus representative for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, and counselor with the freshman summer orientation program. After retiring, he worked as a counselor at the College of Arts and Sciences Information and Advising Center.

His scholarly interests focused on the demography of Japan, where he served as a civil information and education officer from 1946-48, and took him to Tokyo Metropolitan University in 1964-65 as a Fulbright-Hays research scholar. A fellow of the American Sociological Association, he wrote "The Urbanization of Japanese Labor, 1868-1955," which was published by the University Press in 1965 and a joint author of "World's Metropolitan Areas," published by the University of California Press in 1950.

He received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina, a master's degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He studied Japanese at the U.S. Navy language school.

He is survived by his wife, Edith; two daughters; one son; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 22 in Memorial Hall.