It is with sorrow that I report Joel Dirlam died recently, but I am happy to report that in honor of Joel's relentless pursuit of truth the Department has established a permanent Joel Dirlam Research Award for the year's most outstanding research project.Joel and I met in 2005 and agreed that it was essential in today's world to have good, independent research and that it would be good for the Department to promote this with a reward for student excellence. The outgrowth of that meeting was the decision to establish an endowment in Joel's name to fund annual awards for research excellence and for overall excellence. The fund was started with Joel's match of my donation of my University Teaching Excellence Award, and I am glad to say that at this time the fund has reached $26,000. If anyone would like to contribute to the Joel Dirlam Award, please send that contribution to the Economics Department.
To those who knew Joel, it was obvious we were part of something special, and you will probably be able to relate to some of the sentiments expressed below by a former colleague, Richard Vangermeersh and Nancy McKinstry. For me, Joel was all that I thought was right about academia. He was tireless in his pursuit of truth, and he left many younger students and faculty exhausted trying to keep up with him - and that included me. What I remember most of Joel were those "did you read ___?" questions that too often I had to answer no to, and the swarm of students who surrounded him, attracted by his energy and enthusiasm. Joel was a prolific writer, as you can see from his list of publications, I will miss Joel, but thoughts of him will always be there with the annual award for research excellence, which is what I know Joel would want.
A student of mine and Joel – Liz Hahn – told me in 1980 that Joel and I had some common interests and he and I should meet before he retired. Liz had always been a perceptive student, so I called Joel for a lunch meeting at the University Club. Liz was right.
Joel and I were into social activism and agreed on many issues and we skillfully avoided the issues on which we held different views. We worked on three major projects, in which Joel certainly brought much to the table. Since Joel's testimony in 1965 on conglomerates was so significant that he is labeled the "Father of Diversified Reporting," he and I in 1990 reviewed the financial accounting responses 25 years after his testimony in "A Reexamination of Segment Reporting since 1965," published in 1992 in Accounting Enquiries. We also sent our views to the Financial Accounting Standards Board on its proposed revision to diversified reporting. We also did an entry on this topic in Michael Chatfield's and my A History of Accounting An International Encyclopedia.
Joel also shared his massive file and advice on "Capacity" with me and my co-author and former colleague, C.J. McNair. Without Joel's efforts, C. J. and my pieces on that topic would have been much poorer.
Our last project was my various efforts on Stuart Chase perhaps the most important lay writer in economics from 1920 to 1968. Joel's help to me and to the Chase family were immense. I went to visit Joel at the nursing home the morning after he died for his advice on an anti- trust matter of 1919/ 1920. I really need Joel's help in my continuing work on Stuart Chase.
Joel knew so much about so much but he always treated me as an equal. Hence, we could talk for hours about how my views could be deepened. Joel was always excited about those conversations. During his memorial service I noted that speaker after speaker mentioned that point. Joel was an eclectic -- in another time he would have been labeled a true "Renaissance Man."
My last thought is how wonderful Barbara Dirlam was and how much she and Joel complemented each other. What a marvelous hostess Barbara was. What a magnificent person and art history scholar she was. THANKS JOEL and BARBARA.
As 2005 comes to an end it is with sadness that I say goodbye to an old friend, mentor and teacher, Dr. Joel Dirlam. I will always remember Joel for his raw intellect, his burning curiosity about a variety of subjects and his enthusiasm for teaching. I remember the first class I had with Joel, an advanced economics class focused on antitrust. He inspired in me a strong interest in economics and its influence on trade and politics. While Joel was extremely active in researching and publishing he was always committed to teaching and took a personal interest in helping his students whether it was to explain a difficult subject area, to help arrange international studies, or to aid them in finding employment which would leverage their economics degree.
During my last two years at URI I became one of Joel's research assistants, helping him with research on the fish processing industry in Rhode Island and attempting to keep Joel and his office organized, a feat I never truly accomplished. I saw first hand his strong intellect, his ability to multi-task (before this was a common word) and how well regarded he was within his field. I also recall his fast pace (both literally and figuratively) and the stock of white hair which always seemed in need of a haircut.
Joel was a renaissance man who had a command of many different subject areas with a wide range of hobbies, from bee keeping to playing the recorder to gardening. I will always cherish the lifelong friendship that developed both with Joel and his wonderful wife Barbara. After I left URI, Joel and I kept in touch, often seeing each other during the summer at his home in Kingston. Barbara and Joel attended my wedding to my husband Jim and met our children, George and Julia. I most recently saw Joel in May, 2005 at the URI graduation and he was as alert and interested in the world as ever. Joel was a remarkable man who made an impact on many colleagues, students and friends. My family and I will miss him.
Sorrow is best shared, here are some of my memories of Joel.
About 25 years ago, he called me because he had read something that I had written and wanted to meet. I was very flattered. When I arrived at Center for Ocean Management Studies At URI, Joel was on the roof motioning to climb the fire escape into a back window because the front door wasn't working. I was very impressed.
We worked together after that for 25 years. Much of our work was interviewing people in the industry or talking with other economists and social scientists. Joel always asked the question that illuminated the landscape, and he asked it in the spirit of looking for the truth rather than finding fault. I don't think that I or anyone else for that matter was ever offended by his questions, because he was so generous and open. But not much got past him; it was like talking with Adam Smith. He was the same way with editing. He had little tolerance for error, but I never felt affronted nor defensive by his corrections. He had a rare gift.
I saw him a few times after his operation. He seemed to be recovering but was very weak. I visited a few days after his operation and the nurses let me in because they knew that he wanted to talk to someone about economics, and they didn't have the time. He had on a breathing mask and looked terrible, but he had a few things to say about our current project. When I saw him a few days later, he was considering writing a book review of Bonnie MacKay's book on the Oyster Wars. He was gently critical of her analysis of public trust and kept saying, "but who owns it?" He didn't accept the post-modernist analysis, but as always he had plenty of praise for the book.
The last time I saw him in the nursing home, he was in good spirits but very weak. He had given me perfect directions to get there and was sharp as ever. We talked about his family and his health, but also about opportunity costs and health care. He was an economist to the end.
He was a great man, and we will all miss him.
written by Art Mead
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