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Steven Murdock, former chair of sociology department, passes at 75

Photo courtesy Rice University

By Bonnie Zhao     4/18/23 10:20pm

Steven Murdock, founding Director of the Hobby Center who served as the Allyn and Gladys Cline Chair in Sociology at Rice University, passed away on April 7 at the age of 75.

During his life, Murdock was the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as the first- ever state demographer of Texas. He also served as a Regents Chair at Texas A&M University, tThe Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair in Demography and Organization Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio and was a distinguished scholar, publishing with 14 books and more than 150 articles and analytical reports.

President Reggie DesRoches said Murdock made a huge impact on Rice through his teaching, mentoring and research.

“Steve was a firm believer in the power of demographic data and its ability to influence and shape policy and important decisions that affect society,” DesRoches wrote in an email to the Thresher. “He will be missed, but his legacy and knowledge will live on for years to come.” 

Rachel Kimbro, dean of Rice’s School of Social Sciences, said Murdock was a professor who dedicated his career to making sure demographic data was measured and used well.

“For example, it is critical to understand how populations change over time when policymakers are making decisions about where to invest in a new public school or community center,” Kimbro said. “Steve’s work was able to help state   and local policymakers make smarter policy choices, and it was very important to him that his work made a real impact on society.”

According to Kimbro, Murdock mentored dozens of students while working at a range of universities in Texas over his career. She said his students will now carry his legacy forward.

Jim Elliott, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, said when Murdock joined Rice as a faculty member, he had already had a long and celebrated career prior to joining Rice as a faculty member.

“[At Texas A&M], he [published] an avalanche of books, articles and reports and advised nearly 50 graduate students as a primary advisor or close committee member, as well as serving as Editor of the journal ‘Rural Sociology,’” Elliott said. “Just before coming to Rice, he was nominated, unanimously approved and appointed the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, an honor very few sociologists can claim.”

Elliott said that Murdock was always a strong proponent of addressing working-class citizens’ needs, with a particular emphasis on enhancing their access to education and healthcare services in underserved communities.

“He has been a leader, an educator, an expert witness, a trusted man of letters and numbers. And, he’s been our colleague. For all of those things, we’re forever grateful,” Elliott said.

Murdock is survived by his wife, Mary Zey, stepson James Collins Ferrell and grandson George Collins Ferrell. A memorial service for Murdock will take place on April 29 from 5-7 p.m. at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home in Lakeway, Texas. Memorial contributions may be made to the Steve Murdock and Mary Zey Scholarship Fund for Ph.D. students of demography and population studies at UTSA.

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