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Richard HilbertRichard Hilbert, professor emeritus of sociology and longtime member of the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies Executive Committee at the University of Oklahoma, died Sunday, Aug. 22, at his home in Norman. He was 97.

Hilbert was born Dec. 19, 1923, in Reading, Pennsylvania, to Dorothy Heber Hilbert and Arthur Hilbert. He graduated from Reading High School in 1941. He spent time as a jazz musician before being drafted into the armed forces in 1943. He spent three years as a non-commissioned officer in the Army Medical Corps and began playing drums regularly.

In 1946, after leaving the Army, he moved to New York City, where he continued playing drums in jazz bands, including the Red Rodney combo. In 1949, he began taking college courses that eventually led to a doctorate degree and life as a sociology professor.

Hilbert joined the OU faculty in 1964 as chairman of the sociology department. His subject areas were deviance and social control, the criminal justice system, the sociology of religion and general theory. Before coming to OU, he taught at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

He was involved with the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies, a program of OU Outreach, serving as a member of the executive committee from 1964 until his death. For 30 of those years, he was chairman.

In addition to sociology and human relations, he regularly gigged in Oklahoma as a jazz musician, and after retirement in New Orleans. He monitored two elections, in Nicaragua in 1990 and 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 here.

“Dr. Hilbert was truly one of OU’s Renaissance men. He was a jazz musician, a scholar, prolific writer and social justice warrior,” said Belinda Biscoe, senior associate vice president for Outreach/College of Continuing Education at OU. “He was also a man before his time, having hired the first female faculty member in the department of sociology at OU."

He also recruited Dr. George Henderson to the Norman campus. Henderson was one of the first full-time African American faculty members at OU and founder of the OU human relations department, which he chaired for 20 years.

Biscoe said he brought both wisdom and history to the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies board meetings, always grounding their discussions, and on his 90th birthday, he was recognized at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE).

“I often had luncheon meetings and lively discussions with Dr. Hilbert and was always impressed with his scholarly endeavors and travels around the world. I was most fascinated by the stories he shared with me about the educational groups he took to Cuba many years ago,” Biscoe said. “Dr. Hilbert was publishing in peer-reviewed journals right up to his death. He left a mighty footprint in the sand and will always occupy a special place in all our hearts.”

Hilbert was preceded in death by his parents; a brother, Robert; a sister, Doris; two sons, James and John; and Shirley Hilbert, the mother of his four sons. He is survived by his wife, Lois; two sons, Ross and wife Marion of Whippany, New Jersey, and their sons James and Doug, and Thomas and wife Claire of Fort Collins, Colorado, and his daughter Myles; his late son John’s wife, Jane, of Norman; and 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.

Memorials may be sent to Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.