Charles B. Nam
Charles B. Nam
What led me to Chapel Hill in the fall of 1953 was an unanticipated sequence of events. After serving in the military during World War II, I used the GI Bill to attend New York University where I got a BA degree in Applied Statistics. I was then hired by the Census Bureau to work on processing and analyzing the 1950 Census. When the census period ended, in a couple of years, I found myself out of a job and lucked out when I managed to get hired as a junior demographer (civilian) employee of the Air Force at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama. Rupert Vance was spending a month as a consultant to the group I worked for and I got to know him and participate with him in discussions of research issues in which the group was interested. When Vance was ready to return to Chapel Hill, he asked me if I had thought about graduate school. I really hadn’t, but I took the GRE exam and applied to UNC after he said I could be his graduate assistant.
The department was then a combined Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Whether you were specializing in sociology or anthropology, you were required to take an exemption exam in the other area. I had background in neither area but planned to major in sociology (with an emphasis on demography) and minor in statistics. With suggestions from more senior students, I read a couple of anthropology textbooks and managed to pass the exemption exam.
Many of the graduate students in the Alumni Building, where the department was located, had desks in a large room (called the “bullpen”). A few were assigned to an adjacent statistical lab. Both rooms were two flights up in Alumni. The department office was one flight up. (Social Work was located in the basement.) Some students occupied space in smaller rooms on still another flight up where the library also existed. The Institute for Social Research, headed by Gordon Blackwell, was on the second flight, as were most of the faculty offices.
Just before I arrived in Chapel Hill, Howard Odum became ill and passed away so I never had a chance to meet him. Marjorie Tallant, who had been Odum’s last graduate assistant, and I became close and we were married in 1956 while still graduate students.
Katharine Jocher taught the course on research methods and Nicholas Demerath the one on social theory. We had Vance for population, Dan Price for statistics, and Reuben Hill for family sociology. Bill Noland chaired the Department and taught sociology of work and industry. Graduate classes were held in small seminar rooms on the second flight.
I finished the requirements for the master’s degree within a year and a half and continued courses for the doctorate. In addition to serving as a research assistant for Vance, I was a teaching assistant for Guy Johnson in race relations and for Gordon Blackwell in introductory sociology. I spent summers away from campus and that slowed my progress toward a Ph.D. Furthermore, after my dissertation proposal was approved I took a position back at the Census Bureau and worked nights and weekends for a year in our Washington residence to complete the dissertation. I was hooded in Kenan Stadium in 1959.
In 1964, after being a Section Chief and then a Branch Chief in the Census Bureau’s Population Division for seven years, I elected to explore opportunities in academia. I chose Florida State University, which was then interested in building a graduate population program. The time was ripe for acquiring Federal funds for both training and research and that helped immeasurably in recruiting faculty and graduate students. A Center for the Study of Demography was established in 1967 and by 1972 we had a good enough reputation to be responsible for the journal Demography, which we edited for three years. The Center went through several transitions over the years but remained successful and is now called the Center for Demography and Population Health.
My own career has been satisfying. My research was focused on the demography of mortality and measurement of occupational status. I have been author or coauthor of thirteen books (four textbooks in population and several research monographs) and a number of articles. I became President of the Population Association of America in 1979 and President of the Southern Sociological Society in 1981-82. I have been active in several other professional associations.
Marjorie, who taught anthropology and history in a community college, passed away in 2001. Our son, David, is a senior attorney with the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration. Our daughter, Rebecca Giblin, is CFO for a national photography company based in Charlotte. Her son, Thomas, graduated from UNC and is now a research analyst for Accenture.
I retired from FSU in late 1995 but continue my affiliation with the Center, carrying on with one research project and occasional guest lectures. As I approach age 88, I rest my weary bones at a retirement village in Tallahassee where I teach residents there how to do genealogical research.
Submitted Feb, 2015