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Obituary: Paul P. Van Riper, Emeritus

Paul P. Van Riper, scholar, teacher, administrator and community activist, passed away from natural causes in Colorado on July 11, 2014 at age 97.  Paul Van Riper’s multifaceted career spanned 70+ years.  His teaching career included posts at Northwestern University, Cornell and Texas A&M.  He also held visiting positions at George Washington University, the University […]

Paul P. Van Riper, scholar, teacher, administrator and community activist, passed away from natural causes in Colorado on July 11, 2014 at age 97.  Paul Van Riper’s multifaceted career spanned 70+ years.  His teaching career included posts at Northwestern University, Cornell and Texas A&M.  He also held visiting positions at George Washington University, the University of Chicago, Indiana University, the University of Strathclyde (Scotland), the University of Michigan, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Utah.  In 1970 Van Riper became head of the Political Science Department at Texas A&M, one year after the department was separated from History.  He “retired” from the faculty for the first time in 1981 but then returned to teach part time in the Political Science Department and the Bush School of Government until 2008.  Under his leadership the Political Science Department grew from 13 faculty members to 41, and during his tenure the behavioral approach was introduced to political science at Texas A&M.

Dr. Van Riper is the author of two foundational works in public administration – History of the United States Civil Service (1958) and The American Federal Executive (1963) co-authored with W. Lloyd Warner, Norman H. Martin and Orvis F. Collins and numerous articles in professional journals.  History of the United States Civil Service is still considered the definitive history of the merit system in the United States bridging the historical contributions of Leonard White and David Rosenbloom.  The American Federal Executive remains the most extensive analysis of government and business elites in the United States.  In 1990 he received the Dwight Waldo Award from the American Society for Public Administration for lifetime contribution to the literature of public administration.  In 2001, the American Society for Public Administration created the Paul P. Van Riper Award to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to research, teaching and service in public administration.  Within the field of public administration, Van Riper was known especially for his encyclopedic knowledge of the field.

Paul Pritchard Van Riper was born on July 29, 1916 in Laporte Indiana.  His mother was a teacher and his father was both superintendent of instruction for the public schools and a local partisan activist foreshadowing Paul’s own intellectual interest in political science and the administration of public programs.  Paul was the valedictorian of his high school class and attended DePauw University on a Rector Scholarship majoring in history with a minor in social science.

Van Riper received his PhD in political science from the University of Chicago in 1947, majoring in public administration.  His dissertation, written under the direction of Leonard White, was on the history of the U.S. Civil Service.  While at Chicago, Van Riper became a charter member of the American Society for Public Administration.

Graduate school was interrupted by World War II and Paul joined the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, initially serving as an officer in a black platoon (the Army was segregated at the time) and eventually deploying to France as a post D-Day logistics officer in France.  He was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government for his service.  Van Riper remained in the Army Reserve after the war, eventually attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel in the army reserves.

In 1952 Paul joined the faculty at the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration at Cornell University, at the time the first generic school of management, training individuals for careers in both business and government.  He had an active role in the administration of both the school and the university, serving as director of the PhD program for the school and secretary of the faculty both for the school and the university.  He was the chief administrative officer for the Cornell Constituent Assembly tasked with reorganizing the University in 1969-70.

Community service played a major role in Paul Van Riper’s life.  He was an active member of Beta Theta Pi social fraternity and served on its national board of directors, as national vice president and for two years as its chief administrative officer.  He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Brazos Valley Community Action Agency, President of the Bryan-College Station Rotary Club, an active member and officer of the Brazos County Historical Commission, President (and a Founder) of Citizens for Historical Preservation (now the Brazos Heritage Society), and a member and Secretary of the Advisory Council for the Brazos Valley Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Paul’s interest in historic preservation was incorporated into his personal life.  He and his recently deceased wife Dorothy purchased and restored multiple historic houses in Bryan and in College Station.

In a coverpiece for a published oral history project on Van Riper, former President George H. W. Bush says “Paul’s belief in the integrity of civil and community service has served as the foundation for bringing together public administration scholars and practitioners.  He believes that public administration is about practicing management, not just teaching it; that it is about serving your country; and that it is about making community service central to your life and work.”