Roy James McCorkel (1939-2024)

Roy James McCorkel Jr died at home on February 3rd surrounded by family. He was 84. The third generation “Roy McCorkel,” he went by Jamie in his childhood and then by Jim. Jim was a lifelong sociologist both by hobby and by profession. He was fascinated with and delighted by people, often turning around to watch the audience instead of a movie, and attending the circus right into his older years. He made friends quickly and easily, and had a knack for letting his friends know how much he enjoyed and appreciated them.

Jim was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Swarthmore, PA. When he was one year old his parents bought a small woodlot in central Pennsylvania and named it the McCorkel Tree Farm. His family shared this Quaker summer community with family and lifelong friends. He spent time at the Tree Farm nearly every year of his life, in his later years devoting significant efforts towards removing invasive species. His children and grandchildren inherited his devotion to the Tree Farm, spending time every summer on the land that has been tended to by five generations of McCorkels.

His early life was shaped by exposure to other cultures. His father’s international non-profit work led Jim and the family to spend a year in Switzerland when he was in middle school and a year in India in high school. Jim attended the College of Wooster and spent his junior year of college in Ghana immediately following Ghana’s independence from Britain. He climbed mountains and whitewater rafted in Nepal, Tanzania, and North Carolina. His daughters’ childhoods were made richer by his stories (and slideshows) of his many adventures. 

Jim became politically engaged while pursuing his PhD in medical sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he led the student organizing effort to repeal the Speaker Ban Law. He was also an active member of Students for a Democratic Society. He remained politically active throughout his life, particularly around feminist and environmental issues, attending marches in Washington DC and locally, donating to progressive political candidates, and keeping up on current events.

Early in his career Jim taught sociology at Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, IL) and at Meharry Medical College (Nashville, TN). He then focused his career on graduate medical education at teaching hospitals such as Mt Sinai Medical Center (New York, NY), Winthrop University Hospital (Mineaola, NY), Jersey Shore Medical Center (Neptune, NJ) and Inova Fairfax Hospital (Falls Church, VA). He was especially proud to be a pioneer in training doctors on how to talk to patients about sexuality.

After Jim’s first marriage to Christine Hasenmueller ended in 1975, he married Jan Kline and they started a family together on Long Island, NY. Although he didn’t become a parent until age 45, becoming a dad brought out his youthful side. He was a wonderful, playful, and engaged dad. He entertained his daughters Charlotte and Hunter over long car rides with stories and songs, read them books, took them on adventures, and provided an example of gentle, steady, and tender parenting that they both model in their own parenting today. 

Jim moved to central New Jersey after his divorce from Jan in 1995 and began to build the relationships that would define the final decades of his life. He worked on local environmental rights issues through Citizens for Informed Land Use, picketed for abortion access, helped preserve the famous Eero Saarinen Bell Labs building from demolition, and dug deep into many precious friendships. He was an involved member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, at times chairing the Social Action Committee and the Dialog Committee. It was through UUCMC that he met his wife and the love of his life, Elizabeth Spellman Dean. 

Liz and Jim first lived together in a house that Jim passionately renovated, incorporating elements of his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. They then moved into Liz’s 1840s farmhouse in Holmdel, NJ, which they enjoyed together until they moved to Shadow Lake Village in Red Bank in 2015. In all of these homes they loved hosting friends and family, gardening, cooking, and bird watching. 

In his retirement Jim started practicing qi gong and quickly decided to become an instructor. He credited qi gong with keeping him healthy through his 60s, 70s, and early 80s. He practiced every day, usually outdoors, and he loved sharing qi gong with friends and family. He taught for many years at senior centers, cancer survivor groups, parks, and around the pool at the McCorkel Tree Farm. During his treatment for stomach cancer in 2017, he practiced qi gong during his chemo infusions. 

He loved visiting with family in Cape May Point, Maine, Nova Scotia, Boston, Vermont, Philadelphia, Central PA, Seattle, Pasadena, and Colorado. Vibrant and delicious family gatherings always included walks, arts, cooking, reading, spending time in nature, and doing qi gong together.

For all of his adventures, Jim was a creature of habit. He ate cereal with blueberries every morning for breakfast. He ate salad with lunch and dinner every day. He went for a long walk every day the weather allowed and often spent his walks catching up with his sisters or daughters over the phone. He had a predictable sweet tooth and a secret chocolate stash. He valued simple living. He had a relentless optimism that carried him through life’s challenges with a contagious upbeat attitude. 

Jim was an exceptionally lovely man. We are fortunate to have had him in our lives.

He is survived by his wife Liz Dean; his sisters Mary Lou Rozdilsky and Betty Ann Jansson; his daughters Charlotte McCorkel and Hunter McCorkel; Liz’s children Debby Dean, David Dean, Abby Dean, and Libby Dean; and their families.

A Celebration of Life will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County in Lincroft, NJ, on April 6, 2024, at 2pm. 


Let the family know you care by sharing this tribute.

Leave a Condolence