Lawrence “Larry” Samuel Wrightsman Jr.

Lawrence (“Larry”) Samuel Wrightsman, Jr., was born in Houston, Texas on Halloween of 1931, son of a schoolteacher and a petroleum engineer, and was raised in the River Oaks neighborhood. At Southern Methodist University, he majored in psychology, and his minor in journalism led him to the editorship of the college newspaper, the SMU Campus, and to work as a reporter for the Houston Post.

He left journalism to study social psychology, educational psychology, and mass communications at the University of Minnesota, earning a Ph.D. in 1959 with Stanley Schachter. Larry remembered that Schachter “showered me with affection and aggression in almost the same breath.”

While in graduate school, Larry met and married fellow graduate student Shirley Fish in 1955. They had a son, Allan Wrightsman, who died in 2011 (Allan is survived by his wife, Karen Mock Wrightsman). After a brief second marriage, Larry maintained a decades-long relationship with Bea Gray, who died just 12 months before Larry.

Prof. Wrightsman’s first academic job was at George Peabody College for Teachers (now a part of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville. In 1976, Larry moved to the University of Kansas as Chair and Professor in the Department of Psychology. His term as Chair lasted five years. He disliked the interpersonal conflict that was an inevitable part of the role, but he relished research, teaching, and writing for the remainder of his career. He retired in 2008, but continued writing and playing a role in the life of the Social Psychology program. After his retirement, he published four chapters and five authored or edited books.

Larry Wrightsman’s research in social psychology, psychology and law, and education has been recognized many times. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), and the Distinguished Contribution Award of the American Psychology-Law Society. The University of Kansas recognized him several teaching awards.

Larry’s service to the field of social psychology and psychology and law is legendary. He was President of SPSSI and the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. He chaired the Public Interest Coalition of APA, served on innumerable editorial boards, gave keynote addresses, and did much of the unglamorous work building the infrastructure of social psychology and law and psychology. He attended more than 50 American Psychological Association conventions in a row.

By the numbers, Larry’s contribution was extraordinary. He was justly proud of having published over 50 books, including both edited and authored books. His last book was Ten Little-Known Facts about the Supreme Court published in 2016, and still available on Amazon.com.

Larry is known by many generations of undergraduates for his outstanding textbooks in social psychology. Social Psychology in the Seventies (1972) was a publishing breakthrough. Not only was it popular—a genuine bestseller—but it also established social psychology as a “relevant” discipline, interweaving basic research in social psychology with pressing social issues. This combination of basic research and the discussion of social problems became the model of social psychology textbooks for decades to come. Larry’s work in Tennessee was also social issues-related; racial integration was beginning in Tennessee, and he collaborated with Stuart Cook on interventions designed to reduce racial prejudice.

The textbooks, articles, and addresses that Larry wrote helped create the field of psychology and law as we know it. His books on the subject are known to cohort after cohorts of forensic psychology, including Psychology and the Legal System, which has gone through so many editions and is so popular that it now appears as Wrightsman’s Psychology and the Legal System with new authors, and The American Jury on Trial (with Saul Kassin), among many others. He initiated the Courtwatch column which has long appeared in the APA Monitor.

Despite his many years in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Kansas, Larry still retained the lessons of River Oaks in Houston. He grew up to emulate his fellow Texan Larry McMurtry’s respect for used books, and to honor the contributions of his fellow Texan writers Molly Ivins and Bill Moyers.

Larry used a wheelchair during the last six years of his life, and enjoyed reading, sports, C-SPAN, Jeopardy!, and stamp collecting, almost to the end. Larry died at home on July 28, 2019. He leaves behind many former students, colleagues, collaborators, caretaker Monique Glynos and her team, and many friends. A memorial service to be held on the KU campus will be announced at a later date.

Messages & Condolences

From Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, PhD...

Although I had other offers, I attended graduate training in social psychology, because I fell in love with Larry. He was thoughtful, scholarly, kind, and forgiving. He gave negative feedback gently, and positive feedback enthusiastically. Larry has been my intellectual parent, since our first meeting in 1984, and he filled that role until just a few months before his passing. His ideas were endless, and his last advice to me was an idea for a new book based on my research. To all who knew him, he conveyed his love of learning and endless curiosity about people and their behavior. I will always cherish him and his contributions to Psychology and Law, Social Psychology, and Social Justice Issues. I will miss him always.

From Julia Karas Parker...

Larry was always so kind to my boys when we stopped by to deliver meals and he would take the time to share and explain his stamps to my oldest son. And he was always patient and kind with my younger son, who mostly babbled and pointed to the kitchen ceiling fan. Larry contributed so much to his field and our community and I will miss our conversations. I feel honored to have known him these last 3 years.

From Pam Cornish...

Mr Wrightsman was the sweetest , kindest man I have ever met. I delivered meals to him and loved spending time with him. I’m devastated I didn’t get a chance to see him before he passed. I will truly miss him.

From Julie Allison...

Larry was a man of integrity, intellect, and insight. He was always respectful. He cared deeply about others, and showed this through his kindness. He had many diverse interests; perhaps this is what allowed him to see connections between seemingly unrelated theories, principles, concepts, people, and groups of all kinds. His ability to share his thoughts in writing with eloquence was legendary during his life and will remain legendary. Larry gave me and so many others opportunities I would never have imagined on my own. He offered guidance and encouragement to me and to each of his students. There are no words to describe my gratitude to Larry. He will be missed greatly.

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