Richard Hilbert, 97, passed away Sunday, August 22, 2021, at his home in Norman.
Hilbert was born December 19, 1923, in Reading, Pennsylvania to Dorothy Heber Hilbert and Arthur Hilbert. He graduated from the Reading High School in 1941. The next two years were spent working as a jazz musician, mostly in combos on the East Coast, except for a period of about six months when he organized and fronted a big band with Tom Harkness, a talented sax-player and close friend. In 1943, he was drafted into the armed forces, where he spent a total of three years as a non-commissioned officer in the Army Medical Corps. During the last five months of his tour of duty, he served in a station hospital in Camp Swift, Texas. While there, he began playing drums again, this time on a regular basis, Monday through Saturday, in a night club in Austin, and on Sunday at the officer’s club at the hospital.
In 1946, upon being separated from the service, he moved to NYC, the Mecca for jazz musicians at the time. The highlight of his career in NYC was a series of engagements with the Red Rodney combo at the Three Deuces on Fifty-Second Street, arguably the most important venue for white jazz musicians at the time. In 1949, he began to take college-level courses that led eventually to a graduate degree and a life as a Professor of Sociology. But it was not until 1957, at age 34, that he was known as a professor who once played drums. Rather, before then, he was a drummer who was studying to become a professor.
Hilbert earned his BA degree at the University of New Mexico in 1952 and his PhD at Penn State University in 1962. It was at UNM and a relationship with Dr. Paul Alfred Francis Walter, Jr., that he developed an interest in sociology. He taught at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, from 1957 to 1964 before joining the faculty of the University of Oklahoma as Chair of the Department of Sociology. His subject areas were Deviance and Social Control, the Criminal Justice System, the Sociology of Religion and General Theory. He was an incurable theorist, and his early publications dealt with the theory of anomie as an explanation for deviance and social unrest in societies of the American type. His most recent publications, coauthored with Dr. Charles Wright, deal with a concept from the work of Talcott Parsons, known as an “adaptive structure”. He retired from full-time teaching at OU in 1987, but continued to teach part-time at OU, OCU and finally as a Regents Professor at USAO.
At OU, Hilbert was involved with the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Center from 1964 until his death. For thirty of those years, he was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Center. During the decade of the 90’s, he was a lobbyist for AARP and served as Chairman of the Oklahoma State Legislative Committee. He also spent a year as a member of AARP’s National Legislative Council. Because of his interest in the welfare of retired educators, he served for a year as Chair of OREA, the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association. For over thirty years, he was a member of the Board of Common Cause Oklahoma and served for a time as its treasurer.
Hilbert’s interests varied widely. In addition to sociology and human relations, he regularly gigged in Oklahoma as a jazz musician and after retirement in New Orleans. He also spent time as a monitor for an election in Nicaragua in 1990 and one in El Salvador in 1995. His involvement in Central American politics stemmed from his interest in Liberation Theology and the part it played in various revolutions there.
Hilbert was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Robert; his sister, Doris; his sons, James and John; and by Shirley Hilbert, the mother of his four sons. He is survived by his wife, Lois; and by two sons, Ross and his wife Marion of Whippany, New Jersey and their sons James and Doug, and Thomas and his wife Claire of Fort Collins, Colorado and his daughter, Myles; and John’s wife, Jane of Norman. He is also survived by three stepchildren, Cathy Wingfield and her husband Ed of Summit, Colorado, Clifford Chiles of Norman, and Gary Chiles and his wife Amy Sutton of Houston, Texas.
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