Professor Emeritus of sociology James Wright, whose research was central to a modern understanding of poverty and homelessness, died Monday. He was 71.
Wright was a prolific writer and academic, with more than 200 journal articles, 10,000 citations and 22 books to his name. He was also recognized as a Pegasus Professor in 2013 — the highest academic honor for an educator at UCF — and a Provost Distinguished Research Professor during his 17-year tenure at UCF.
But it was his civic activism that earns the warmest praise from his colleagues, including projects and consulting work that benefited organizations including Heart of Florida United Way, Second Harvest Food Bank, Coalition for the Homeless, and Orlando Housing Authority. As director of UCF’s Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences, Wright brought in more than $1 million in funding for these projects.
“He had a huge heart and concern for others,” says Elizabeth Mustaine, chair of the Department of Sociology. “He constantly lifted up everyone he could – helping agencies that support the neediest in our community, and helping other faculty members and students succeed. His time in the sociology department made it a much better place, an improvement that we expect will last for years to come.”
Wright graduated from Purdue University in 1969, then pursued his master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin. His academic career prior to arriving to UCF in 2001 includes stints at the University of Massachusetts and Tulane University.
“Jim was a wonderful scholar, a person with deep concern about society’s less fortunate members, and a friend and mentor to many.” — College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson
Wright was a gifted writer, and he generously shared his talents. He published scholarly papers with 36 current or former UCF colleagues and graduates. His recognition as “Outstanding Faculty Advisor” in 2006 and again in 2014 was due largely to his commitment to mentoring: He either directed or served on the committees of approximately half the students awarded graduate degrees in sociology since the inception of the doctorate program.
Sharing his insights extended beyond campus. Wright served on many national and regional organizations, including Foundation on Violence in America and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
“Jim was a wonderful scholar, a person with deep concern about society’s less fortunate members, and a friend and mentor to many,” says Michael Johnson, dean of the College of Sciences. “We are fortunate that he chose to bring his talents to UCF. We will miss him sorely.”