In Memoriam: Tom Cooley 1943-2021

Thomas F. Cooley was a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, as well as a Professor of Economics in the NYU Faculty of Arts and Science. He served as Dean of the Stern School from 2002 to January 2010. Before joining Stern, he was a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester, University of Pennsylvania, and UC Santa Barbara. Prior to his academic career, he was a systems engineer for IBM Corporation. A Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations he was also a Fellow of the Econometric Society and held an honorary doctorate from the Stockholm School of Economics. One of Tom’s legacies is his role in founding the Society of Economic Dynamics. He was President of the Society from 1999 to 2002. He started the Society’s journal, The Review of Economic Dynamics and was the first Editor of the Review.

Statements of remembrance from friends, colleagues, and students:

I met Tom 34 years ago at Rochester when I visited doctoral programs in economics. We hit it off immediately, and I chose to go to Rochester in part because I could work with Tom. He was the best academic advisor I could have imagined, and I was fortunate to have been able to be close friends with him since that time. As luck would have it, after Tom retired from NYU, he moved to Santa Barbara, less than 10 minutes from my home. We shared much time together during the last 8 years, which I will always treasure.

Tom’s impact on the profession is huge. His scholarship has touched so many parts of economics, ranging from his path-breaking work with Ed Prescott on large-scale Keynesian models and stochastic parameter identification and estimation, to interpreting and identifying VARs with Steve Leroy, to the impact of monetary policy and fiscal policy on the economy with Gary Hansen, to analyzing financial market imperfections with Vincenzo Quadrini.

 And then there is “Frontiers of Business Cycle Research”, in which he brought together a remarkable group of macroeconomists who were developing key tools to study dynamic equilibrium economies. That volume remains a go-to in everyone’s library.

Tom was instrumental in creating the Society for Economic Dynamics, which flourished under his leadership, and which has taken on a life of its own since that time.

Tom was happiest in seeing young economists succeed and advance scientific knowledge. Always armed with a large and warm smile, he made sure to check in with all the young people at our conferences, giving them comments, providing support, and letting them know how much they were valued.

Tom was a wonderful dad to his four children Aaron, Ricki, Josh, and Noah, and he was a loving husband to his wife of more than 40 years, Patricia Bower-Cooley. The Cooleys always made me feel like I was part of their family.

As our friend Mark Bils once remarked to me, “Tom was a prince of a guy.” He was indeed a prince. He was the best. And I will miss him always.

Lee E. Ohanian, Santa Barbara, CA, October 16, 2021.

Lee E. Ohanian, UCLA

I first met Tom Cooley when I was an unknown Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario. Greg Huffman and I told him about our research. He listened attentively, gave us friendly advice, and offered an abundance of encouragement. He left quite an impression on two young economists who were just starting out. That was Tom.

It was years later at the University of Rochester that I fully appreciated what a genuinely decent person Tom was. He funded graduate students, gave them his office in the Economics Department (he had another one in the Simon School), and invited foreign students to his house on Thanksgiving because they had no home to go to.  I was often at his house too, sometimes on those Thanksgivings. My oldest son was the same age as his youngest, Noah, and they shared interests in Doom-era video games and Nirvana. Pat and Tom were gracious hosts.  Tom helped some great PhD students in the Economics Department at the University of Rochester—Gian Luca Clementi, Jang-Ok Cho, Nezih Guner, Lee Ohanian, Ananth Seshadri, Francis Vella, and Mehmet Yorukoglu to name a few.  But, he also aided those who struggled with their theses, and who got little advice elsewhere.

Tom started the Review of Economic Dynamics because he thought that junior researchers outside of top schools couldn’t find an outlet for their research. He was the first Editor of the Review and he stayed there until it was a going concern.  He then turned the Review over to the next Editor. Tom wasn’t interested in clinging on to power as so many Editors are. He disliked vested interests in Economics. Likewise, his interest in editing (with Ed Prescott) the Frontiers of Business Cycles volume was to jump start quantitative theory, which was in its infancy then. He always tried “to do the right thing.”

From pictures of Tom, you can see that he didn’t change much over the years. He was always there, a sweater over his shoulders, listening, smiling, and being supportive of people. A constant in time, so to speak. I never told Tom how much his friendship meant to me. I just took it for granted and thought he would always be around. His passing is a reminder that you should let your friends know how much they mean to you.

Tom will be missed.

Jeremy Greenwood, Philadelphia, October 16, 2021

Jeremy Greenwood, University of Pennsylvania

I always enjoyed talking to Tom Cooley. He was not only a great economist but also a very kind and compassionate man. He was very open minded and could see all sides of an argument even when he had a strong opinion about a topic. I learned a great deal from him.

Ayse Imrohoroglu, USC Marshall

Marcus Aurelius started his Meditations with a chapter of ‘acknowledgments’, of legacies and
lessons he got from relatives, philosophers and friends. If I were to do a similar recollection,
Tom Cooley would be high in my list and the paragraph on him would read as follows:

From Tom Cooley I learned about dignity, something he always had, since I met him until his
final fight with his heart. I also learned that if one works and develops in three fronts – say, as
researcher/scholar, as institutional/organization builder, and as policy observer/advisor –
one will have a better perception and, therefore, will better contribute in all of them, but at a
cost: not being a true insider in any of the three; the risk to get lost. But Tom always knew
where he was, freedom that requires strength to maintain (one evening walking in the Village
he told me that, for this, meditation helped). I also learned from him not to be fooled by
mindless econometrics or policy talk, not to be mesmerized by professional fads, to get back
to the roots of theory but not to stop there. To enjoy lunch and beer talks even if there was no
conclusion, in a never-ending discussion about economics and the societies we live in. And
Tom’s life had some bad turns, he remarkably endured, again with deep strength. No room for
vanity, but room for good economics, students and friends (and a boy’s dream: a blue Tesla).

Ramon Marimon, Florence, October 11, 2021

Ramon Marimon, European University Institute

I met Tom for the first time when I was a student at Penn, it could have been 1994 or 1995. That year he visited from Rochester, and taught us an exciting advanced macro topics course including some of his papers and other state of the art research in business cycles.

We were then colleagues at NYU for 15 years, and I loved every minute of my interactions with him. He was always so encouraging with and protective of young faculty. You could trust him and count on his support. He was a fatherly figure for the macroeconomists of my generation.

His top-notch research will surely stand the test of time and will be taught for generations to come. That’s one way to remember him, as a great scholar and a leader in our profession. But I also like to remember him with this picture from the Budapest SED in 2005. A small gesture and a warm smile that show all his kindness as a human being.

Gianluca Violante, October 16, 2021

Caption of the Figure: Tom Cooley, Dirk Krueger and Jesus Fernandez Villaverde.

Gianluca Violante, Princeton

I believe I met Tom the first day I was in the Department of Economics at Rochester in the Fall of 1994.  I was with Mehmet Yorukoglu in the department, who told me that there was a job market preparation talk by Jorge Soares, a student of Tom. I had no idea what Mehmet was talking about, but there I was, meeting Tom and listening to a job market paper on my first day as a graduate student. Tom then taught us the first-semester econometrics at Rochester, which was a delightful course. We have been close since then.

One can say so many things about Tom; a true scholar,  a gentleman, a visionary. Yet, first as a graduate student and then as a friend, what struck me the most was his unconditional support and honesty. I remember Tom calling me between his flights when I needed advice during the job market or taking a long train ride from NY to Rochester to attend my defense when flights got canceled.  Tom was generous with everyone. You could always count on him.  He touched the lives of so many graduate students and colleagues.

Tom had a great passion for economics and a greater one for life; it was always fun to hang out with him. Over the years, Pat and Tom visited Spain several times, and we were fortunate enough to build fond memories, which we will cherish. I will deeply miss him.

Nezih Guner, October 2021

Nezih Guner, CEMFI

I first met Tom Cooley back in the Fall of 1994. He was my Econometrics Professor. He used intuition and great examples, but he never stopped telling us that structural modeling of deep parameters was the complement of superficial econometric analysis, since planning of forward-looking people in markets was difficult to decipher through raw correlations. In a very simple way, he explained that policy evaluation needed an understanding of this planning (going even beyond the Lucas critique). He was very inspiring and influential, he had a communication charisma. One semester later, I requested a reference letter from him in order to apply for external funding. He provided the letter on the same day, and when I stopped by to thank him, he just told me “Don’t worry, it was a pleasure! Good luck with the application!” To this date, nobody has matched his generosity and kindness, and I will always try to imitate him on this. In numerous other cases, he offered golden advice on work and provided moral support on how to cope with research difficulties. His papers have been exceptional, focusing on policy questions, that he addressed through dynamic games and dynamic contract theory, carefully developed tools by him, well ahead of their time. He kept a great balance between doing pioneering research and maintaining a down-to-earth policy relevance. He will always be an example, both as an extraordinary researcher and as a wonderful human being.

Christos Koulovatianos, Luxembourg, October 16, 2021

Christos Koulovatianos

It is with deep sadness that I am writing to share a few thoughts about Tom. I could say many great things about his intellectual stature and scholarly contributions. This is well known and well documented by his outstanding formal record. Instead, I would like to say few words about him on a personal side. I met Tom when I was a graduate student at Penn (he was visiting from Rochester). I immediately noticed the gentle and generous way he was interacting with graduate students. The first time I talked to him I was intimidated by his enormous scholarly reputation and was nervous to meet him. But my anxiety was short lived since he made me feel at ease right away. What a hamble and great guy, I thought.

After a couple of weeks, I was giving my pre-job market presentation at Penn. This is an important event for PhD students because it determines their department ranking. My presentation was sort of a disaster. After the presentation, Tom came to talk to me. He gave me a lot of suggestions and then, unexpectedly, he offered to write a recommendation letter for my job market application. Tom understood that I was in trouble after my poor presentation, and he genuinely wanted to offer his help. He was so compassionate and showed me then what an extraordinary mentor and teacher he was.

After his visit to Penn, I was blessed with the opportunity to work with him for decades. The last collaborative work was published in 2020. Besides learning from him intellectually, which has been enormous and fundamental for my understanding of economics, working with Tom gave me the opportunity to get to know him personally. The impression I had the first time I met him at Penn endured. That was the real Tom. He never made you feel uneasy, even if you said ridiculous things. He was the person to confide in when things were not going well. He made you feel better and encouraged. Even if he could not solve your problem, you would feel energized to face the problems rather than giving up. He showed sincere empathy which is quite rare.

We are going to miss him dearly. Besides losing an outstanding scholar we are losing a great human being.

Vincenzo Quadrini, October 2021

Vincenzo Quadrini, USC Marshall

Images from Tom’s life