Kennedy School "Founding Mother" Dies at 88

Edith M. Stokey ’44 had a good memory. When the Harvard Kennedy School needed to compile a personnel database a few years ago, Stokey, though in her mid-80s, was up for the challenge. She mapped out the names and positions of teachers and staff from memory.

Joseph J. McCarthy, former senior associate dean and director of degree programs at the Kennedy School, hung the work on his office door.

“I kept it not only as a reminder to me of what people should be able to do, but also for my students to see that she held all of this in her head,” McCarthy said.

Stokey, who is often referred to as the “founding mother” of the Kennedy School, died of cancer in her Cambridge home on Jan. 16 at the age of 88.

In 1971, Richard J. Zeckhauser ’62, a professor of political economy at the Kennedy School, asked Stokey to lecture in microeconomics and work as a secretary at the fledgling graduate school of government at Harvard. Stokey had just returned to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in economics, but she abandoned that plan to take the dual position as lecturer and secretary.

At the newly founded Kennedy school, “secretary at that time was like being the secretary of state,” McCarthy said.

In 1978, Stokey and Zeckhauser co-wrote a book entitled “A Primer for Policy Analysis” that is still taught in public policy courses around the country.

Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 remembered that Stokey guided him when he was struggling to gain his footing as a new assistant professor teaching economics.

“She was a remarkable mentor and friend,” Ellwood wrote in a message to the Kennedy School community. “I still use her lessons every day.”

Stokey also paved the way for women at the Kennedy School, according to McCarthy.

Mary Jo Bane said that she was following in Stokey’s footsteps when she became the first woman to “hold the title” of tenured professor and academic dean at the Kennedy School.

“I use the language of ‘hold the title’ quite consciously, because I am not the first woman to do the jobs; Edith is,” Bane said.

Stokey retired from the Kennedy School in 2000.

Stokey is survived by three children—Elizabeth, Roger, and Lucy, who is a member of the Class of 1977. Her husband Roger P. Stokey ’42 died in 1982.

Stokey and her husband often played bridge together, according to her son Roger.