Richard Udry, pioneering adolescent-health researcher and population scientist, dies July 29

August 02, 2012
 
Dr. Richard Udry

Dr. Richard Udry

J. Richard Udry, PhD, professor of maternal and child health and sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Sunday, July 29, after a long illness. He was 83.

Dr. Udry was a Kenan Distinguished Professor of maternal and child health in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. He also directed the university’s Carolina Population Center (CPC) from 1977 to 1992.

During his nearly 50-year career, Dr. Udry pioneered research that integrated biological and sociological models of human behavior in the areas of adolescent behavior and health, sexual behavior and women’s gender roles, and developed the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).

“Dick Udry was a bold, innovative scientist,” said Carolyn Tucker Halpern, PhD, professor of maternal and child health and CPC faculty fellow. “Researchers in public health and other population and social sciences are doing stronger work today because of his vision and trailblazing in relation to biosocial models of well-being.”

Dr. Udry earned a PhD in sociology from the University of Southern California in 1960. After teaching briefly at Chaffey College and California State Polytechnic College, he moved in 1965 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he remained for the rest of his career.

As CPC director, Dr. Udry initiated a fundamental shift in the center’s mission from technical assistance to research. He started the faculty fellows program, reorganized the relationship between the center and disciplinary departments, and led the center toward interdisciplinary work.

“Dick created the center that exists now,” said Barbara Entwisle, PhD, vice chancellor for research at UNC and Kenan Distinguished Professor of sociology. “The CPC administered more external awards than any other department, center or institute on campus in fiscal year 2012. Its core support from the National Institutes for Health is more than that for any other population center in the country.”

Dr. Udry’s emphasis on integrating biological and social sciences in the examination of population issues and demographic behavior remains one of the center’s hallmarks.

“As a scholar, Dick Udry worked on topics that were at times controversial,” Entwisle said. “He was way ahead of his time.”

Dr. Udry also mentored generations of new researchers into the real world of research, program and policy.
“Many of us, especially those interested in adolescent health and sexuality, benefited immensely from his gifts as a mentor,” Halpern said. “He certainly was a key figure in my scientific and professional development.”

Dr. Udry secured funding for and directed Add Health from 1994 to 2004, producing innovative strategies for making the data available to researchers while also protecting research participants. During his time with Add Health, the data were made available to more than 2,000 researchers, producing hundreds of research articles and additional grants.

Dr. Udry’s leadership roles included the presidency of the Population Association of America in 1994 and two terms as president of the Society for the Study of Social Biology. In 1997 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of his distinguished contributions to science and scholarship. In 2004 he received the Society for Adolescent Medicine’s Outstanding Achievement in Adolescent Medicine Award. He also was centrally involved in the establishment of the Association for Population Centers, an organization that has enhanced education about population research among policy makers.

In addition to his work in the scientific and academic worlds, Dr. Udry was a longtime Sierra Club member and avid outdoorsman. During a 20-year span, he led more than 200 hikes and outings that brought people closer to the natural spaces that he enjoyed and worked to protect. He gave short commentary about history, plants, trees and birds along the way. In 2003 he received the Joseph LeConte Award, the Sierra Club’s highest honor.

Dr. Udry is survived by his wife, Janice May Udry, of Chapel Hill; daughters, Leslie Udry of Chapel Hill and Susan Udry Martin of Round Rock, Texas; and a granddaughter, Felicia Martin, also of Texas.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the North Carolina Sierra Club, 112 South Blount Street, Raleigh, N.C., 27601.

 

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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or linda_kastleman@unc.edu.