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News Dr. Russell R. Dynes 1923 - 2019

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Russell R. Dynes, Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware and former Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association, died on February 10, 2019, at age 95. Dynes was an early pioneer of the disaster research field and co-founder of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), first founded at the Ohio State University and later relocating to the University of Delaware.

Professor Dynes was born in Dundalk, Ontario, on October 2, 1923, and later moved to the United States with his family. During World War II, he was an Army Specialist Training Group in Engineering at the University of Alabama, later assigned to the 138º Petroleum Distribution Company. After his discharge in 1946, he completed his bachelor’s (1948) and master’s (1950) degrees at the University of Tennessee, and his PhD in sociology at Ohio State University (1954).

It was at Ohio State where he met Enrico Quarantelli and Eugene Haas. In 1963, he co-founded the Disaster Research Center, one of the most renowned centers in the world focusing on the social aspects of disasters. Quarantelli and Dynes continued as DRC co-directors for many years, mentoring students who became leaders in the disaster research field. Russell Dynes’s influence on scholars stretched beyond disciplines and borders, providing the foundation for much of the knowledge about individual and organizational behavior during disasters and contributing to the formation of the sociology of disasters.

Many of his accomplishments were in service to the sociological profession. He chaired the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University (1974-1977), then left OSU to become Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association (ASA) from 1977 to 1982. This was a time period of great expansion and more diversity in the discipline of sociology, trends that Dynes greeted with great enthusiasm. Many of us who “came of age” during that period saw him as a mentor and friend. 

Over the years, he served as president, vice president, and program chair of the North Central Sociological Association; editor of ASA’s Footnotes, chair, associate editor, and treasurer of the Religious Research Association; and treasurer for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, in addition to many other national and regional committees. After the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, he served as the head of the Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Response for the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island. He joined the University of Delaware as chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice from 1982-1988. It was during that time that Quarantelli and the Disaster Research Center moved to its present home at the University of Delaware.

Professor Dynes wrote and edited many books, book chapters, and monographs, including a co-edited volume on the Sociology of Disasters: Contributions of Sociology to Disaster Research. He served as President of the Research Committee on Disasters from 1986-1990 and its executive committee from 1990-1994. His honors are many, including multiple Fulbright awards and scholarly awards from the disaster research community: the E.L. Quarantelli Award for Contributions to Social Science Disaster Theory, and the Charles E. Fritz Award for Distinguished Career Service to the Field of Disaster Research, both from the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Disasters. 

Professor Dynes was, at all times, a sharp observer of human behavior, both by individuals and in groups and organizations. His classic book, Organized Behavior in Disaster, now nearly 50 years old, presents durable analyses and findings that remain foundational in our understanding of disasters. His 1995 article on disaster research policy networks was published in the Journal of Applied Sociology. In addition to providing a fascinating autobiographical background, he wrote of the importance of “transnational and comparative work, that sociological knowledge should have application, and that sociology, like any intellectual activity, needs to be supported by creating interpersonal networks.” Through his Fulbright Awards that brought him to Egypt, India, and Thailand, his international fieldwork, and his conference travel that brought him around the globe several times over, Dynes forged and fostered connections that would last a lifetime, influencing his thinking, writing, and teaching. 

The late sociologist and former National Science Foundation program officer William (Bill) A. Anderson commented, “My mentor and friend Russell Dynes has been a most remarkable and productive figure in the social science disaster research community for nearly five decades. With far reaching intellect and collaborative nature, he arrived on the scene of the nascent disaster research field at just the right time to provide leadership to help build a community of scholars that cuts across national borders and to show the way to new and creative ways to capture the essence of human behavior in disaster, train future generations of researchers, and build bridges to policy makers and practitioners.”

Dynes was predeceased by his wife, Susan, and his son, Jon. He is survived by his sons, Russ, Jr. (Jane Luke), Patrick, and Greg; and grandchildren, Oliver, Christopher, Madeline, and Andrew.

Those who remember Professor Dynes recall his cheerful demeanor. Throughout his career, the moment he met a student, a scholar new to the field, or an international visitor to the Disaster Research Center, he would immediately conjure a recollection of a visit to the person’s home-city, a tie to their interest, or a connection upon which to build. He had the wonderful ability to set someone at ease and quickly build rapport. 

We can be grateful for his long and productive life, one whose pursuits led him abroad and kept him coming into the office, writing, and co-editing books well into his 80s. Although we are deeply saddened, those of us who knew him will reflect on many good times. Those who know him only as a pioneering scholar in the field will have the benefit of his many contributions for years to come.

Tricia Wachtendorf, James Kendra, Margaret Andersen, University of Delaware

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Dr. Russell R. Dynes 1923-2019

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  • Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
  • University of Delaware
  • 18 Amstel Avenue, Newark DE 19716, USA
  • Sociology - 322 Smith Hall
  • Phone: 302-831-2581 Fax: 302-831-2607
  • Criminal Justice - 325 Smith Hall
  • Phone: 302-831-1236 Fax: 302-831-0688