Jim Wright obituary

John Blundell
·2-min read

Jim Wright, who has died aged 83, was a member of academic staff in the department of psychology at the University of Leeds for more than 30 years and was a dear friend and colleague to all who knew him during that period. Jim made a huge impact on the culture and the intellectual life of the department of psychology at Leeds from the late 1960s until his retirement in 2001.

He was born in the US – in Queenstown, Maryland, one of 11 children of Elwood, a farmer, and Merion, a domestic help. In his youth Jim worked on a farm and in a canning factory, and he excelled academically despite having to take one day a week off school to look after younger siblings. From 1955 until 1959, Jim attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he gained a BA in psychology and zoology. Martin Luther King spoke at his graduation ceremony.

Jim was awarded an MA in psychology from the University of Atlanta in 1960 and went on to work at Kentucky State College, the University of Maryland and in the Peace Corps. He was active politically and participated in sit-ins against segregation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Jim travelled to the UK in 1965 to take up a post in the ethology group at Bristol University, before being appointed to a lectureship at the University of Leeds in 1969.

As an academic psychologist, Jim was one of the true intellectuals in the department. He held the clearly expressed position that psychology should primarily be regarded as the science of behaviour. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the discipline and a scholarly and deeply considered approach to his role as an academic. Although he frequently worked very long hours, he never complained of being overworked; this had a calming and civilising effect on the departmental culture.

Jim was an inspirational and gifted teacher who was prepared to spend as much time with the students as they wanted. His office hours for student visits were often 8am till 8pm, and sometimes longer. He was generous with his knowledge and his intellect, and the students loved it. For some, this approach represents an ideal in university life, and Jim epitomised this ideal.

Jim is survived by his wife, Cath Foster-Brown, whom he married in 1975, and their two sons, Jonny and Ben.