Dr. Carey Thompson, Professor Emeritus
of Economics, died on July 10, 1998, at the age of ninety. He is survived
by his wife, Louise Paxton Thompson, their daughter Helen Louise, and
her husband, Charles Lohrmann.
Although we know Carey as a person of
great ability, a devoted teacher, and an adept chairman of the economics
department, we remember him best as a man of exceptional character, a
person to be trusted who was always honest in his dealings with colleagues
and strangers. His long professional life was one of lasting contributions
to the University of Texas, to the people of his native state of Texas,
and to the nation not only as a teacher, scholar, and administrator,
but also as a volunteer in public service who used considerable energy
in advising state legislators and governors of Texas. What follows provides
a sample of these contributions, though only a suggestion of his broad
and lasting influence.
Carey Carter Thompson, the son of George B. and Claire Finney Thompson,
was born March 12, 1908, in the tiny East Texas town of Malakoff. He was
raised in a religious setting and his mother had hoped that he would someday
become a minister. But that was not in the cards for this precocious child
who learned to read at the age of four and who graduated from Malakoff
High School when he was only fourteen years old. Somewhat out of character
for such an excellent student, Carey took a job involving hard physical
labor despite encouragement from some of his high school teachers to go
on to college. He soon learned that his teachers had a better idea and
enrolled in the University of Texas when he was sixteen years old.
Scholarships and other financial assistance were scarce at that time so
the young man had to work his way through college. A classmate of his
at the University, Dr. F. J. L. Blasingame, who became a renowned physician,
loves to tell about the conversations he had with his friend as they washed
dishes together at the UT Commons. Despite the necessity to work, Carey
excelled in his studies and graduated in 1928 with a B.A. degree in economics
and business. One of his proudest achievements was his election to the
Phi Beta Kappa Society. He remained at the University to complete a masters
degree in economics and government, a joint interest he was to maintain
many years later. We know that he was greatly influenced by Professor
Robert Hargrove Montgomery (Dr. Bob to most) and, very likely, by Professors
Edward Everett Hale and E. J. Miller. After finishing his M.A. degree
in 1931, he accepted an academic appointment as instructor at Amarillo
College where he taught until 1938.
Convinced that education would be his lifetime work he enrolled in the
Ph.D. program in economics at the University of North Carolina. During
his first year at UNC he was awarded a teaching fellowship. His stay at
Chapel Hill was limited to a full academic year, 1938-1939, a summer session
in 1940 and another in 1941. He accepted a position as assistant professor
at Furman University for the school year 1939-1940 teaching economics
and business. His graduate student career was cut short when he returned
to Amarillo College as dean in 1940, a position he remained in until he
took leave in 1942 to join the U.S. Navy. But he held the title of dean
at Amarillo College until 1946.
Carey entered the U.S. Navy with the rank of Ensign. His temperament,
educational background, and experience as a teacher made him an ideal
candidate to train future naval officers. He served as officer-in-charge
of various ground training schools for naval air cadets. It is evident
that his service was valued as he rose through the ranks to Lieutenant
Commander. He was released from active service in 1946 but continued his
affiliation with the navy as a reserve officer, participating in the reserve
unit at the University of Texas (a research group). He advanced to the
rank of Commander before retiring from the navy in 1962.
His long detour from academic life paid off in several ways. The skills
he picked up in the navy through his dealings with many and different
kinds of people would serve him well as he assumed administrative duties
in the Department of Economics. More important though, he married his
former student, Louise Paxton, along the detour. They were married in
December 1943 and formed a very successful partnership for the rest of
After release from the navy, Carey returned to his former position at
Amarillo College. He did not stay there long as several opportunities
opened up for him in Austin. In response to entreaties by the Director
of the Texas Employment Commission, he took a position as research consultant
to the commission for one year; it was during the one-year appointment
there that he developed an intense interest in problems of unemployment.
He published his first refereed paper, entitled "Experience Rating in
the Texas Unemployment Compensation Program," in March 1947. Others were
After his demonstrated potential for research, he was offered a position
as assistant professor in the economics department at the University of
Texas starting in the fall semester, 1947, even without a Ph.D. degree.
After two years of teaching, he took leave to return to Chapel Hill to
finish his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina. His dissertation,
"Some Financial Aspects of Unemployment Compensation with Special Reference
to Texas," was completed during the summer of 1951 and he returned to
Austin to take up his duties as a faculty member. But he didnt stay
long. In 1953 he was off to Harvard to study for a year courtesy of a
Ford Foundation Fellowship. Old-timers who remember the strict, precise,
and highly dedicated chairman of economics at the time, Professor Edward
Everett Hale, speculate on how the chairman viewed this on-again off-again
behavior of his former student. Hale undoubtedly encouraged Carey to take
the Ford grant because he saw it as a good career move. Even so, we can
imagine a few words that the chairman might have spoken to the returning
professor, "Time to settle down, Carey!" Well, we dont know, but
Carey never left again after his stint at Harvard.
He did settle down and it was not just to teach and do academic research.
If one were forced to state the activity for which Professor Thompson
is best known, the most likely answer would be his long chairmanship of
the economics department. Beginning in 1959 he was appointed successively
to the posts of assistant, associate, and acting chairman. Those of us
who were here in that period recall that despite the qualifying adjectives,
he was the de facto chairman in those years. The nominal chairman, Professor
Higgins, a renowned scholar in the economics of developing countries,
was away most of the time in consulting roles related to his subject.
Someone else had to do the work of the department. That someone else was
Carey Thompson. When Higgins resigned in 1962, Carey replaced him as chairman
and served eight years in the position. He proved to be an excellent chairman,
quietly and efficiently performing all of the duties of the position.
He took the designation "chairman" literally. He considered it his duty
to preside over a body of equals and to execute their collective will;
and it was a busy time for him and the department. He was outstandingly
successful as a recruiter, bringing to the department a large number of
young people who were to have distinguished careers, mostly at Texas,
but some elsewhere. Despite the obvious changing of the guard that occurred
during his tenure as chairman, the change did not result in any major
disputes. Building his department while maintaining a congenial faculty
was a test of his leadership that he passed with flying colors.
His effective chairmanship over an eleven-year period took its toll on
his research activity and to a certain extent on his teaching activity
as well. Prior to his effective chairmanship Carey had been very active
in research, which is reflected in his list of publications appended.
At one time he taught as many as four classes a semester. Even as chairman
he continued to be the supervisor of the 50 or so sections in freshman
economics. His usual menu of teaching consisted of principles of micro-
and macroeconomics, the introductory course in public finance, the second
or higher-level course in public finance, and a graduate course in public
finance. After hiring younger faculty to teach in public finance he gladly
accepted the assignment of teaching large sections of principles of microeconomics.
He seems to have enjoyed working with beginning economics students and,
we think, had a major impact on the way they reasoned in economics. Also,
as chairman he continued to attend professional conferences and meetings,
and following his chairmanship he served the department as graduate advisor.
He served on the editorial board of two economics journals and was active
in a number of professional organizations. His name appeared for many
years in Whos Who in America and Whos Who in American Education.
Besides his duties in the economics department, he served on university
and outside committees too numerous to list in this short resolution.
The range includes Faculty Council, Executive Committee for the UT Institute
for Public Affairs, Parking and Traffic Committee, and several committees
dealing with employment, personnel, OASI, insurance, education, and budget
(all in his specialties). He served for many years as the economics departments
representative to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
A major part of Careys service to the state was his tireless work
as an unpaid consultant to state legislators, committees, and other officials.
He continued to consult on issues of unemployment compensation long after
he had left his post with the Texas Employment Commission, but his primary
interest shifted to the pressing problem of inadequate state revenues
to meet the needs of the rapidly growing state of Texas. The fear of taxation,
as many officials felt it in the 1950s and early 1960s, was that any general
source of revenue would slow the growth of income in the state. Carey
was largely successful in his papers and oral arguments in convincing
legislative committees that general sources of revenue had not slowed
the growth of rapidly-growing states which did depend on general sources.
Of the choices available at the timeÐ income tax, corporate tax, sales
tax Carey came down on the side of the sales tax, not because he
personally preferred it, but because he was astute enough to know that
it was the best that could be done in the existing political climate.
One does not need to exaggerate the role played by Carey in the outcome,
but it was clear at the time that he played a major role. It was not for
nothing that Governors Price Daniel and John Connally together appointed
him seven times as Texass delegate to the annual conferences on
taxation of the National Tax Association.
Students might have viewed this thin, balding and didactic professor as
all work and no play. They probably would not have been surprised to learn
that Carey was a top-notch bridge player, who regularly participated with
Louise in duplicate bridge matches, because many consider bridge an intellectual
game; and like his work, he took the game seriously. Some might have been
surprised, however, to learn that he enjoyed playing golf, and, in fact,
was quite good at it. He and his close friend Wendell Gordon were regular
attendees at UT baseball games and Carey kept a close eye on UT football
and other sports as well. He certainly knew the players by name and the
coaches in person. Ask him questions about Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson,
Ed Price, Darrell Royal, and noted quarterbacks, running backs, pitchers
or home run hitters and one would learn that he could recite the history
of sports at UT with related statistics. Why, it is very likely that he
knew Uncle Billy Disch! After all, he had been a student at Texas in the
1920s. Forecasting was not his specialty in economics, but he seems to
have had a sense of what might happen in football. He told Ed Price not
to take the head coaching position for Longhorn football, citing the famous
cautionary remark, "Beware the ides of March." Perhaps it was not exactly
the ides of March, but poor Ed was able to win only nine games in his
three years as head coach and did not win a single game in 1956, the year
In 1975 Carey went on modified service but continued to be a valued member
of the department by doing what he did best and what was in the best interest
of the department, teaching Economics 303, Principles of Microeconomics.
He taught his last course in 1981.
An account of Careys life, even a brief one, would not be complete
without noting his involvement in Democratic Party affairs. The leadership
role he played in academic life carried over to his political life. A
departmental colleague who attended some party meetings with Carey wrote
about Careys influence on a group of West Austin Democrats.
"The group looked to him and it looked up to
him. One reason was that everyone understood his total integrity. A second
reason was his, call it, devotion.É In a meeting of peers Carey would
sit silent for a long while, never thrusting himself forward, but merely
quietly observing. At some of those meetings he would rise to speak, always
with total confidence. Everyone gave rapt attentionÐ he conveyed sincerity,
perspicacity and authority. Usually the group quickly decided. Despite
his power, Carey practiced it modestly and unselfishly."
But, it was not party affairs or leadership
of the Department of Economics that Carey would have ranked highest as
his accomplishments. He was very proud of the role he played in advancing
the causes of blacks and other minorities at the University. In 1957,
for example, Barbara Smith, a young black student of obvious operatic
talent, was cast in the leading role opposite a white male in a University
production of Dido and Aeneas. The president of the University, under
considerable political pressure, used his influence to have her removed
from this role. As a former member of the Faculty Council, Carey stood
before the group to praise the "vigor of the reaction" by a substantial
number of students on behalf of Ms. Smith while attacking the administrative
action of the University as unjust and unwise. Of course, it is well known
that Barbara Smith Conrad became a famous opera singer and was recognized
eventually by the University as a Distinguished Alumnus. He was also proud
of the role he played in extending Social Security coverage to UT faculty
members. Public finance was his primary interest as an academician and
Social Security advocacy at a time when it was not yet universal was one
way of bringing his academic thinking to the real world. Finally, colleagues
remember that he stood up for principle as chairman of the economics department
in the 1960s when a powerful chairman of the Board of Regents attempted
to dictate the position that the University should take on some controversial
In public life, Carey Thompson made contributions as a respected consultant.
In private life, he enhanced the lives of others as family man, congenial
sportsman, and conscientious citizen participating vigorously in the process
of political democracy. In academic life, he made important contributions
as teacher, scholar, and administrator. But primarily, he will be remembered
as a teacher who touched the lives of his students. It is fitting, then,
to conclude this memorial resolution with comments from several former
students of Professor Thompson. A few years after Max Brown had taken
Economics 302, he wrote a letter of appreciation stressing the way that
Careys class had influenced him. "The discipline which was required to
make an A in that course set a pattern for me for the remainder of my
years at Texas. The academic success I enjoyed in other areas and in other
courses was largely derived, I feel, from the responsibility I learned
to accept in your course." Donald Dacy, a severe critic of teaching performance,
was enrolled in the very first class Carey taught at UT. Even with the
passage of fifty-two years he remembered Professor Thompson well, and
wrote, "He was serious in his scholarship but unpretentious in life, and
the focus of his classroom was always the topic at hand, and never the
speaker before the class." We think that all who knew Carey would agree
that he ranked his ego as a poor second to his performance. Among other
qualities, this one made him a very pleasant colleague, and it was a pleasure
to have him with us for so long.
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This Memorial Resolution was prepared by a special committee
consisting of professors Douglas C. Dacy (Chair), Stephen L. McDonald, and
Daniel C. Morgan.
|"Experience Rating in the Texas Unemployment
Compensation Program," Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, Vol.
27 (March 1947), 311-330.
"Financing Unemployment Insurance in the United States," Political Science
Quarterly, Vol. 46 (March 1954), 92-118.
"Unemployment Insurance in Texas," Southwestern Social Science Quarterly,
Vol. 35 (September 1954), 91-106.
"New Sources of Tax Revenues for Texas," Texas Law Review, Vol. 34
(December 1955), 229-258.
"Some Recent Developments in Unemployment Insurance," Southern Economic
Journal, Vol. 23 (October 1956), 151-159.
"The Significance of State Tax Earmarking," 1956 Proceedings of the Forty-Ninth
Annual Conference on Taxation, Ronald B. Welch (ed.), Sacramento, California,
The National Tax Association, 1957, 316-323.
"Financing Government in Metropolitan Areas," Proceedings of the Texas
Conference on Metropolitan Problems, May 16-17, 1958, Austin, Texas:
Institute for Public Affairs, 1958, 30-35.
"State Tax Problems," Texas Quarterly, Vol. 3 (Autumn 1959), 15-25.
"State and Local Government Employment in Texas," Public Affairs Comment,
Vol. 5 (September 1959), 1-4.
"Inflation in Economic Development: Comments," in Eastin Nelson (ed.), Economic
Growth: Rationale, Problems, Cases, Austin: University of Texas Press,
"Amarillo," in Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 1 (1962), 728.
Institutional Adjustment, (ed.), Austin: University of Texas Press,
"The Efficiency of Education in Economics," American Economic Review,
Vol. 59 (Papers and Proceedings, May 1969), 242-243.