Edith Stokey 1923-2012

Remembering our founding mother and friend

January 18, 2012
By Jenny Li Fowler

The Harvard Kennedy School community is mourning the loss of Edith Stokey – economist, teacher, administrator and “founding mother” of Harvard Kennedy School – who died during the evening of Jan. 16. She was 88.

Stokey was a true believer in the Kennedy School’s mission. Since being recruited by Richard Zeckhauser in 1971, Stokey served many years as secretary of the school and associate academic dean. She worked with many deans and professors, providing perspective and good counsel to each.

“Edith took me under her wing when I started as a struggling, new assistant professor teaching economics,” said Dean David T. Ellwood. “She was a remarkable mentor and friend. I still use her lessons every day.”

Stokey taught microeconomics as well as public sector operations research to many generations of Kennedy School students. She helped craft admissions and curriculum policy and in so many ways helped to shape many aspects of today’s curriculum.

“We constantly ask ourselves ‘What do we think a student needs in order to certify him for public service?’” she said. “The answer, unfortunately, is more than we can possibly do in one or two years. There is far too much to do.”

Though she officially retired in 2000, becoming lecturer in public policy, emerita, she continued to be deeply engaged with the school, retaining her office in the Littauer Building and keeping office hours for many years.

Her dry humor and keen intellect were admired and respected by faculty and students alike. Her “A Primer for Policy Analysis,” co-written with Richard Zeckhauser, is still used in schools of public policy throughout the country.

To honor Stokey and her longtime service to the school, an oil portrait was unveiled during a ceremony in May of 2008, and now hangs outside Dean Ellwood’s office in the Littauer Building. Stokey remarked that she was “honored” by the portrait, but humbly claimed that she is just “a symbol” of the many great founders of the school who worked hard to “make a success of it.”

Former Academic Dean Mary Jo Bane credited Stokey with opening the doors to many women who have since followed her.

“In 1987 I became the first woman to hold the title of tenured professor at the Kennedy School. Last year I became the first woman to hold the title of academic dean. I use the language of ‘hold the title’ quite consciously because I am not the first woman to do the jobs; Edith is. And the fact that Edith did the jobs, and did them so well, laid the groundwork for those of us lucky enough to be born a generation later to both do the jobs, though probably not as well, and to hold the titles," said Bane.

“We have lost a precious friend to the School, and I can only imagine the tremendous loss being felt by her family. Our thoughts and prayers go out them,” said Ellwood.

A memorial service is being held for Stokey this Saturday, January 21, at 2:00 p.m. in the First Parish in Wayland (Universalist Unitarian), located at 50 Cochituate Road in Wayland.

For those wishing to honor Edith in some way, donations can be made to Sudbury Valley Trustees, a land conservation organization that was co-founded by her late husband, Roger Provines Stokey.

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Stokey headshot

Edith Stokey 1923- 2012

Photo credit: Tom Fitzsimmons

“We have lost a precious friend to the school,” said Dean David T. Ellwood.

Oil portait of Edith Stokey

Oil portait of Edith Stokey, painted by artist Stephen Coit.