After earning an undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in 1977 and moving to the Boston area, Edward F. Lawlor spent many mornings searching for a job.
Typically, he would then head over to Harvard Square to browse the job openings posted there — and also to catch an afternoon movie.
“Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces were playing one day,” says Lawlor, Ph.D., dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the William E. Gordon Professor. “The theater’s theme for the day was ‘easy’ — kind of ironic, given the fact that most of the people in the theater, including me, were having a hard time finding employment.”
His own job search was about to become easier. While perusing the Harvard University job postings, he found a listing for a research position with the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Lawlor dropped off his résumé at the department office and was met by the director of the Public Policy Program, Lawrence E. Lynn Jr.
“We had a great conversation, and he hired me right off the street,” Lawlor says. “If not for that chance meeting, there’s no way I’d be where I am now. I’m a big believer in life’s accidents.”
According to Lawlor, his five-year run at the Kennedy School was “spectacular” and fed his interest in public policy and social welfare.
Lawlor then pursued a doctorate at the Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University, where he focused on the economics and politics of aging.
“When I was done with my doctorate, I called Larry Lynn, who was then the dean of the School of Social Administration at the University of Chicago, for a reference,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily planning on going into academia — I was considering research and government positions — but he asked me to apply for a faculty position at Chicago.”
Lawlor and Lynn spent the next 20 years as colleagues there.
“I began as one of his faculty members, and then in 1998 I became his dean,” Lawlor says. “It was a remarkable 30-plus-year set of collaborations.
“I owe a lot to that chance encounter. I think about the great mentor I had when I work with students today.”
Lawlor became dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work July 1. He enjoys being at the helm of one of the top institutions in social work education and research.
“The fun thing about my job is its many dimensions and demands,” he says. “I’m able to participate in policy and social services research while working with great students, faculty and staff. My job’s never dull.”
During his career, Lawlor has developed a distinguished record of scholarship in Medicaid and Medicare policy, access to health care, health insurance and the health-care work force.
Lawlor is the founding editor of Public Policy and Aging Report, a quarterly journal on policy and research in an aging society, and the author of Redesigning the Medicare Contract: Politics, Markets, and Agency, a critically acclaimed book that looks at Medicare as a social contract between society at large and its most vulnerable citizens.
“Eddie Lawlor is a great addition to the leadership team of the University,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says. “He is just concluding his first year here, but he has already established himself as an effective leader for his school and a key contributor to the University Council. He is assuming a large role in engaging the University in community issues and has been effective in stimulating discussions of important interdisciplinary programs.
“Creative, thoughtful, dedicated and enthusiastic are descriptors of our newest dean, and I am privileged he made the commitment to join us.”
Edward F. Lawlor
Positions: Dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the William E. Gordon Professor
• Doctorate in social policy; Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University, 1984
Family: Wife, Betsy; son Matthew (19), daughter Abby (16), son Casey (13)
Lawlor and his family are enjoying their new community.
“My wife, Betsy, and I have especially enjoyed the international emphasis of the school and the University,” he says. “Not just in the sense of having a diverse group of people, but also in how much we are learning about politics and policy across the globe.”
During the recent elections in Uzbekistan, for example, the Lawlor family hosted a dinner with a group of students and heard first-hand reports about the underlying politics in that country.
The next week, the Lawlors hosted students from Taiwan and learned about the underlying issues at play in the tensions with China.
“Our international students manage to plunge into their work and responsibilities here and also keep current back home,” Lawlor says. “Being a part of a community that is so engaged and so knowledgeable has added a whole new dimension to our lives.”
Lawlor hopes to see this international and comparative discussion become more and more the lifestyle of the school.
“I recently went to a study group of faculty and doctoral students discussing aging and social security in China,” Lawlor says, “and I was impressed by the number of faculty who were there just because they were interested. It was just another example of the faculty’s curiosity and dedication to students.
“There is a strong community at the School of Social Work. The faculty and students are always at work in Brown and Goldfarb halls, and they are a group that has a good time with each other as well.”
Lawlor finds this same sense of community in the University as a whole.
“Washington University has a very strong sense of purpose,” he says. “As soon as you walk onto campus, you know you’re in an environment that is promoting academic and scholarly life.
“Even the physical spaces on campus seem to invite discussion and interaction.”
Lawlor has temporarily put his interest in dog-sledding on hold while in St. Louis.
When he was working at Harvard, Lawlor put together a small dog-sledding team and did winter camping in northern New England.
“Originally, Betsy and I thought we would be making our way to Alaska, but it seems like we have been moving in the wrong direction,” he says. “We still have two aging sled dogs — an Alaskan malamute and a Chinook, but this is not exactly the climate for running a team.
“It is still in my life plan to run the Iditarod or one of the other big races.”
Although dog-sledding is on hold, the Lawlor family is finding St. Louis a great environment for cycling, sports and music.
“Betsy and I have made great use of Forest Park for cycling and have begun riding with a number of our neighbors,” he says. “Both (daughter) Abby and (son) Casey are active in soccer, both at school and on club teams.
“The music scene has been the best. Betsy is singing in chorus, and Abby is playing trombone and euphonium in a number of school and local groups.”
Lawlor jokes that he has been in St. Louis for just over 300 days. He hopes to become more involved in urban policy and social service issues as he learns more about the region and its issues. He has already joined the board of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, and he’s looking to find an appropriate role in health policy in the region.
“One of the most rewarding experiences I had in Chicago was my 10-year stint on the Chicago Board of Health. I hope to be able to make a similar contribution here.”