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Paul W. Thayer Obituary

Michael A. Campion

Dr. Paul W. Thayer was an industrial and organizational psychologist probably most distinguished by his professional service.  He was a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), American Psychological Society (APS), and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).  He received multiple awards for his service, including SIOP’s Distinguished Professional Contributions Award and its Distinguished Service Award, as well as the APA Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science. 


For APA, he served on the APA Insurance Trust (founding member), Council of Representatives, Membership Committee, Convention Affairs Committee, and Policy and Planning Board (as chair).  For APS, he was treasurer, chair of the Finance Committee, and a Founding Fellow.  For SIOP, he served in ALL elected offices, including president (in 1976–1977), and was currently serving his 20th year on the SIOP Foundation Board of Trustees.  His served as a volunteer to all these organizations for an astounding total of 110 years. 


He has BS degrees from Penn State and Kings Point, and a PhD from Ohio State (under Harold Burtt).  He taught for 2 years at the University of Pennsylvania and then joined the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association where he started as a training researcher and rose to VP Research and Senior VP over a 21-year period.  He then went to North Carolina State in 1977 where he was department head of Psychology for 16 years.  He retired in 1993.  He also consulted with many businesses, government agencies, and the U.S. military. 


His most recognized scientific contribution was in industrial training.  He coauthored (with William McGehee) the first scientific book on the topic, Training in Business and Industry, in 1961, which is considered a classic in the field.  He also made meaningful contributions to research and practice in areas such as selection interviews, biographical predictors of job performance, career development guidance, programmed learning, job design, equal employment, and many other topics. He has many scientific publications in top journals and has given numerous papers and presentations at all the professional conferences and many universities.  He also served on the editorial board of Personnel Psychology for 30 years and on its book review Panel for 10.


On a less tangible level, Paul Thayer was distinguished by his contributions to strengthening the social network of the profession of psychology.  He was an avid attendee at conferences and knew everyone it seemed, which he used to help people meet and exchange knowledge.  He took the role of mentoring seriously, substantially influencing the lives of his many protégés.  As examples, one of his former students (Leslie W. Joyce) established a fund that recognizes their mentoring relationship that yields a doctoral fellowship of $10,000 per year, and I was also a former student who was so inspired by Paul’s guidance that I devoted my career to scientific publications and professional service to SIOP (e.g., SIOP president in 1995–1996).  More broadly, Paul adopted the role of shepherd to the profession by continuing to guide it with a gentle but persistent hand through involvement in professional service for 6 decades (1956–2017).


Finally, in terms of his background, he was born on July 18, 1927 and died on January 25, 2017, at the age of 89.  He was married for 64 years to his beloved wife Bjorg (deceased in 2015), who was also a psychologist.  They had three children (Scott, Lisa, and Chris) and six grandchildren. 


Paul had a long, happy, and successful life, which anyone should respect, but he should be remembered most for how he stands out for serving the profession of psychology.  His wisdom and wry sense of humor are also well known and show delightfully in his 1977 essay with Bill McGehee.


A more detailed description of Paul Thayer’s life and career can be found in his autobiography written for the SIOP task force on history at  http://www.siop.org/Presidents/Thayer.aspx.



McGehee, W., & Thayer, P. W. (1961). Training in business and industry. New York, NY: Wiley.

Thayer, PW, & McGehee, W.  (1977).  On the effectiveness of not holding a formal training course.  Personnel Psychology, 30, 455-456. 

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