Walter Stafford, a soft-spoken urban economist who delivered incisive and biting critiques of societ’s inequities, died on Saturday after an eight-year battle with cancer.
Stafford, 68, was known as one of the city’s foremost analysts of the impact of urban policies on the poor. At his death he was a professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Previously, he worked with the Community Service Society and the National Urban League. He was the author of over 100 articles, including a 2003 study, “Women of Color in New York City: Still Invisible in Policy,” that criticized both government and media for ignoring increasing levels of AIDS and poverty among minority women.
“Walter Stafford was unique because he possessed a rare combination of intellect, compassion and humility that allowed him to downplay his contributions to humanity, when in reality he was a large presence in an increasingly small and hostile world,” said Walter Fields, vice president of the Community Service Society.
Raised in the deep South in Tuskegee, Alabama, Stafford attended college there. As a young graduate student in sociology, he joined the civil rights movement, working as a volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s.
“He was always a scholar-activist,” said his friend, Joyce Ladner, also a sociologist who met Stafford at a SNCC conference in Atlanta in 1963 where Stafford was attending graduate school. “That remained his forte throughout his career,” said Ladner. “He wanted the work of activists to always be guided by the data, that people shouldn’t take issues out of the thin air, that the best way to advance those causes was by being grounded in data that supports your actions.”
Stafford is survived by his wife. Chelli Devadutt, a step-daughter, Gita Stulberg, and his sisters, Corrie Wingfield and Alta Starr. A memorial service is being planned.