A Message from Department Chair, Robert Shimer

I am writing with the sad news that George Tolley passed away early this morning at the age of 95.  George was a Chicago economist through-and-through.  After serving in the US Army during World War II and earning his BA in economics from American University, he came to the University of Chicago to work on his PhD, which he earned in 1955. After an eleven year stint at North Carolina State University, George returned to the University of Chicago in 1966 as a Professor of Economics and remained here until he became an emeritus professor in 2000. George was a familiar presence in the hallways until very recently, and he continued teaching here until 2018.

George made important original academic contributions. From his graduate student days onward, he was an integral part of the highly regarded group of agricultural economists at the University of Chicago that included D. Gale Johnson and T.W. Schultz. He did early research measuring rural poverty. He was a pioneer in the areas of Environmental, Urban, and Energy Economics. His ability to move across fields was a hallmark, distinguishing his work by its interdisciplinary and policy relevance. Among his many accomplishments, George was an internationally recognized leader in the development and application of techniques for measuring costs and values that are determined outside of conventional markets.  He applied these techniques to the valuation of urban and environmental amenities and improvements in health and medical treatments, among others.  He used such estimates successfully in regulatory proceedings and court cases.

George very much enjoyed working with students and colleagues, giving his time generously to exchanging ideas, providing advice or establishing joint or collaborative projects. He was known as a prolific mentor, ushering into the field a large number of economists, many of whom also rose to prominence in public service, financial institutions, and universities around the world.

George was a former Director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Chicago, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He was a founding editor of the journal Resource and Energy Economics. He held visiting professorships at the University of California at Berkeley, Purdue University, Nankai University, and Guelph University.  In 2018, he was the recipient of the Honor A Colleague award by the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis. 

In addition to his academic work, George was president of RCF Economic & Financial Consulting. He also held executive positions in the Federal government including Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, and Director of the Economic Development Division of the Economic Research Service at the US Department of Agriculture. He consulted widely for federal, state, and municipal agencies, as well as international organizations like the World Bank, on the problems of urban and environmental economics from the 1960s until only a few years ago, both as an academic and in his capacity as President of RCF.  His expertise was requested in numerous international studies taking him to Korea, China, Japan, Venezuela, Panama, Iran, Thailand, The Gambia, Israel and Egypt. 

George is survived by his wife Alice, his daughter Catherine, son-in-law Bill, and two grandsons. My thoughts are with his family. The Tolley family requests that gifts in memory of Prof. Tolley be directed to the George S. Tolley Prize. The Prize was recently initiated by Vinod Thomas, AM 1974, PHD 1977, to recognize and reward a third-year student in the Department of Economics whose research paper demonstrates the potential for the impact of economic analysis on policy. A memorial gift may be made online.  

Best wishes,

Robert Shimer

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