What can I add about Chuck Tilly to all that appears on these Web pages? Nothing, probably, but Chuck was such an important influence on my career that I feel I would be remiss if I did not say something. I did my graduate studies at Michigan beginning in 1971 and defending my dissertation in 1977 with Chuck as my dissertation chair. I also had my first graduate assistantship with him, in an undergraduate course entitled “The Study of Cities and Urbanization.” Thus began a lifelong mentorship. I had experiences similar to those of others who have written about Chuck here; for example I can remember him telling me to stop calling him “Dr. Tilly” and just call him “Chuck.” However, in some ways my experiences with Chuck were different from those of others writing here, but just as valuable and just as important to my sociological career.
Unlike most of Chuck’s students at Michigan, my interests were not in social movements or historical sociology, but rather in urban sociology with an applied focus. Regrettably, I did not participate in the Sunday night gatherings at his house, because I perceived, rightly or wrongly, that the substantive focus of those gatherings was different from my own. I wish now that I had, because I know that I missed something very special, whether it related directly to my substantive interests at the time or not. But it says a lot about Chuck that he never held this against me nor did he chastise me for it; rather he always gave me whatever amount of time and effort it took to advise me and to help me with my work.
Chuck had an amazing ability to know when a graduate student needed pushing and when he or she did not. Shortly after I had passed my prelims (which in my test-fearing mind represented a much bigger hurdle than the dissertation I never doubted I would write), I settled into a sort of “winding down” period where my main focus seemed to be feeling good about thinking that I had somehow convinced my readers that I knew enough about my prelim exam area, demography and human ecology, to pass the exam. One day during this period I ran into Chuck, and said, “Hi Chuck, how are you doing?” I will never forget his reply, “Hi, John, how are you doing. Or rather, WHAT are you doing?” He made it clear that he wanted to see some progress on the dissertation proposal I had told him was coming but had done nothing to produce. I needed that. I got to work on it that day, and Chuck never pressed me about my progress again. Just as important as knowing when someone needed a little push, Chuck also knew when you didn’t, and he didn’t push you unless you needed it.
Instead, he offered me helpful and insightful ideas and advice whenever I asked, something that I came to depend on throughout my life. As others have mentioned, he also had a way of putting people in touch with others who had similar interests or who could be helpful to their careers in some way. I had become interested as an undergraduate student in the research of Bill Michelson at the University of Toronto. When I arrived at Michigan, I learned that Bill had been a student of Chuck’s during his time at Toronto. I was interested in Bill’s use of time budget data to understand the motivations for and consequences of people’s choices to move to different types of neighborhood and housing settings, and was encouraged by Chuck to get in touch with Bill when I expressed interest in his work and the possibility of gaining access to some of his data. I did, the contact with Bill was fruitful, and I was able to dig a dissertation out of an unanalyzed portion of his data. Analysis of time budget data is cumbersome, and can result tables that run for many pages. Early in my dissertation work, Chuck told me that it was not necessary to write a long dissertation, telling me “You ought to be able to say it in about 125 pages.” I was grateful that he never chastised me for turning in a 425-page dissertation, the majority of it consisting of multi-page tables!
What was special about Chuck was that his mentorship was a lifelong process. In the years after I left Michigan, he gave me useful and insightful advice about a wide range of issues. Among these were advice about seeking academic positions and publishing my first textbook, and a lifelong willingness to offer comments and suggestions on manuscripts and advice on where to get them published whenever I asked. The same was true with regard to his willingness to write letters of recommendation, even years after my Michigan days. He also continued to help me network, by such things as asking me to serve on the editorial board of a book series he was co-editing. I think my fellow student from my Michigan days, Bill Roy, is absolutely right in speculating that if data were kept on acknowledgments as it is with citations, Chuck would be right at the top. In fact, what amazes me most about Chuck is that, with one of the most productive careers of any sociologist, Chuck always found the time to help current and former students with their work. I don’t know how he managed it all, but I know that I am better for it, and I know there are many, many others who would say the same about their lives and careers.
John E. Farley
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville