Joan Fish McCord, 74, criminologist

Posted: March 02, 2004

Joan Fish McCord, 74, of Penn Valley, an internationally known criminologist and Temple University professor, died of lung cancer last Tuesday at her home.

Dr. McCord studied criminal and alcoholic behavior using a research technique called "longitudinal research," which traces people from childhood to their adult years. "Dr. McCord's unique marriage of philosophical thinking with empirical social sciences produced remarkably insightful and original work," said professor Mike Wadsworth, a criminologist at University College London.

"She believed sociologists should do no harm," said Ralph Taylor, chair of the criminal-justice department at Temple. He said Dr. McCord advocated carefully controlled experimental studies lasting years and even generations.

"Our society puts too little time into discovering ways of helping children," Dr. McCord told a reporter in 1998. "We are too willing to take mere opinion as fact."

Dr. McCord's research methods stemmed from the surprising results of a 30-year study in Massachusetts she reported on in 1979. It found that high-risk teenage boys who had been given mentors, health-care services, and summer camp fared worse, later in life, than a control group of boys who received no services. Dr. McCord's advice was in demand by foundations, research councils, and criminal-justice departments. She was the author of 12 books and numerous articles.

She had been a professor of criminal justice at Temple since 1987. In addition to working on her publications, she continued to teach until last semester.

Dr. McCord was chair of the executive panel on mentoring at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania and was past president of the American Society of Criminology.

Dr. McCord grew up in New York City and Tucson, Ariz. She earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree in sociology from Stanford University.

She married William McCord in 1950. The couple divorced in 1964. Four years later, she came to Philadelphia to join the sociology department at Drexel University.

"She loved this region," said her son, Rob. "She did not want to raise us in California [where] she thought there was too little culture and too little focus on ideas and service."

In 1971, she married Carl Silver, who was also a professor at Drexel. He died in 1998.

Besides Rob McCord, Dr. McCord is survived by another son, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord; her ward, Tom Underwood; a brother; a sister; and four grandsons.

Burial was private. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. May 23 at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Square.

Contributions may be made to the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, 1520 Locust St., 5th Floor, Philadelphia 19102.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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