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In tribute: John “Jack” Gurley, Feb. 25, 1920 — Nov. 15, 2020

He was a Stanford student, tennis champ, professor and benefactor. A son of Alameda, Calif., who later moved into the Vi in Palo Alto. When Jack Gurley celebrated his 100th birthday this past February, I dubbed him the “California Kid.” 

Jack Gurley
Jack Gurley will be missed, but his legacy at Stanford will endure.

He was also the “Stanford Kid,” having graduated from the Farm in 1943 and then receiving his PhD in 1951. And as a member of the 1942 tennis team, he helped capture both the men’s singles and doubles national championships.

Jack died on Nov. 15 at the Vi. And while he will be sorely missed, his legacy at Stanford will endure.

John G. (Jack) Gurley started his academic career at Stanford as an instructor from 1948 to 1950. After completing his PhD, he went to Princeton as an assistant professor, followed by a stint at the University of Maryland as an associate professor and full professor. While at Maryland, he was also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He returned to Stanford in 1961 as a professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences. He officially retired in 1987, but he kept on getting called back to active duty to continue teaching Econ 1.

There were two phases of Jack’s research career. First, he teamed up with his senior Stanford colleague, Ed Shaw, to produce a string of highly acclaimed articles and a book integrating money, finance and economic growth. These articles, which included an analysis of broader financial intermediaries as well as banks, received a lot of attention and were considered by many as ahead of their time.

The second phase of Jack’s research career dealt with the Chinese economy, the Soviet economy and Marxian economics as a framework for thinking about the shortcomings of capitalism. Jack encouraged Stanford students to think big and to endeavor to make the world fairer and more equitable. He not only wrote a book entitled “Challenges to Capitalism: Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao,” but he also wrote another book entitled “Challenges to Communism.”

Jack was the managing editor of the American Economic Review, the leading journal in the economics profession, from 1963 to 1968.  He succeeded Bernard Haley, his friend and Stanford colleague in that role. He was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1966-67. In 1976, he gave the prestigious Marshall Lectures in Cambridge, England.

Jack was a legendary teacher. He was the first recipient of the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1976, he was selected by the senior class as one of three outstanding professors to address the Senior-Parent luncheon on class day, part of the graduation celebrations. By that time, this was becoming an annual event as he was similarly selected in 1971 and 1972 and 1975. 

His Economics 1 class was incredibly popular. In fact, in 1975 he attracted what was then a record enrollment for a class at Stanford (664 students).

Jack was a very generous person. He made several gifts to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) to support economics graduate students and faculty, but he never named his gifts after himself. Jack named his early gifts after Bernard Haley and Ed Shaw, two senior colleagues and architects of the modern Stanford Economics Department. His later gifts were named after his wife of 69 years, Yvette. Yvette was an economist as well, but her career was stifled by the gender discrimination in the profession in the 1950s. Jack chronicled the last 32 months of Yvette’s life in the Memory Unit of the Vi in a series of short books, which give a unique glimpse into dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Conversations with Jack Gurley were always fun and insightful. He had wide-ranging interests and was a keen observer of events at the Vi. He was sharp until the end and was following the post-election news the day before he died. He recounted how he knew Kamala Harris as a four-year-old.  He was a marvelous teacher and colleague.  He was a great writer, a wonderful neighbor, a generous supporter of the Stanford economics community, and a very good friend.

John B. Shoven is the former Trione Director of SIEPR and the Charles R. Schwab Professor of Economics, emeritus, in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

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