The University of Chicago community mourns the passing of Jolyon Ticer-Wurr (PhD, Sociology, 2014) on December 12, 2022. Jolyon was born on May 2, 1959. He graduated from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA in 1977, and from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989, earning High Honors in History for his thesis on Oakland’s pre-World War II Black middle class. Alongside Jolyon’s California upbringing, the mark made by his British parents was deep and lasting.
Jolyon entered the MA Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS) at the University of Chicago in 1991. He entered the PhD Program in Sociology in 1992, among an uncharacteristically large cohort of 42 students. Jolyon stood out for his spirited critical engagement in every class. There was never a thesis that went uninterrogated, a point that went un-deconstructed, or a finding that went uninvestigated. Jolyon loved reading and discovering, and he loved to talk about it. He took to the Chicago workshop tradition with singular energy. He was a participant in and coordinator of the Urban Workshop for many years, over which time he gave detailed feedback to likely hundreds of workshop papers. The number of urban sociologists who have benefitted from Jolyon’s generous critique is immeasurable. Outside of the classroom, Jolyon kept in shape playing basketball on Team Phenomenon at Bartlett Gymnasium, and enjoying the trees, flowers, and plantings on the walk across the Midway. As a May baby, Jolyon felt a special connection to those spring blossoms.
Jolyon got involved in research early in his graduate school career. He worked on the Comparative Neighborhood Study (CNS), under the direction of Professors William Julius Wilson and Richard Taub, and alongside a large team of fellow graduate students. The Center for the Study of Urban Inequality was a bustling space for graduate researchers across cohorts and disciplines. When he wasn’t in the field, Jolyon was at his cubicle in the Center, always ready to debrief about a research encounter or talk about Chicago politics. Jolyon was the organizational glue behind the CNS. Word processing was just becoming commonplace, and Jolyon kept track of thousands of pages of field notes stored on dozens of floppy disks.
Jolyon studied “Dover,” a pseudonymous Chicago neighborhood where the Latino population was increasing. His meticulous observational eye and penchant for thoroughness made for unmatchable fieldnotes. The final book from the CNS, There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America (Knopf, 2006), would not have been possible without Jolyon’s insightful contributions. Dover was the subject of Jolyon’s dissertation, entitled “Routines, race, and social control: Coordinating action and constructing identity as a neighborhood majority transitions from white-ethnic to Mexican-American,” which he completed in 2014, under the direction of Professors Andrew Abbott, Richard Taub, and Terry Clark. Finishing the degree was hard fought, and it represented Jolyon’s willingness and ability to battle beyond doubt and setbacks. He never wore the “Dr.” title comfortably, but it was an achievement to be celebrated.
Jolyon participated in many other research efforts while a graduate student. He worked on the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy Implementation Evaluation at Northwestern University, on the Fathers at Work Evaluation for Public/Private Ventures, on the After-School Programming of YMCA of Northwest Indiana, and on several studies at Chapin Hall. He also taught courses at Loyola, Olive Harvey, and the U of C. After finishing his PhD, Jolyon did research and consulting in the educational and political spheres.
Perhaps Jolyon’s most lasting contribution to the University was through his more than twelve years of service as a Resident Head in the undergraduate housing system, including many years at The Shoreland. It was there that Jolyon shaped young minds, suggested summer reading, mediated disputes, comforted grieving students, imparted his informed opinions on pretty much everything, held teatime, and served home-cooked meals. Jolyon and his wife LaShanda built a family at The Shoreland—their own two children plus a decade’s worth of young people in need of reassurance, love, and care. Jolyon’s kindness and thoughtfulness could not have been more perfect for the job.
Finally, in the best tradition of Chicago Sociology, Jolyon immersed himself fully in the City of Chicago, and especially the South Side. He married a South Side native, and they lived in Woodlawn and Grand Boulevard. He and his family were avid gardeners at the 62nd Street Community Garden in Woodlawn, and his kids attended South Side schools. Jolyon was worldly and cosmopolitan, but he lived life on the block and in community with others. Fittingly, Jolyon co-authored the entry “Chicago Studied: Social Scientists and Their City” for The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Jolyon was indeed a social scientist in his city. He was formed in the hills and mountains of the Bay Area, and he cherished the traditions of England, and then he embraced Chicago and built an incredible life of learning and loving, and a fierce commitment to all creation.
- Mary Pattillo (MA’94 PhD’97), Harold Washington Professor, Departments of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University