He never expected to die Jan. 13 of a sudden heart attack at the age of 73. Maybe because after he retired as chair of the Department of Law and Justice in June 2003, the late Robert McCormack did not settle for the typical retired lifestyle.
Up unto his final days, McCormack was hard at work, helping to organize a panel for the United Nations’ 11th Crime Congress in Bangkok this April. The United Nations considers the congress, which is held every five years, a major global event.
McCormack developed a panel to address the challenge of restoring justice systems to conflict-torn nations, which was his way of fulfilling a passion for criminal justice around the world.
“He cared a lot about international matters,” James Finckenauer, national president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) and Rutgers University professor, said. “He spent a lot of time trying to bring these things forward when he was retired because he believed in (the importance of) this.”
After serving 20 years in the Department of Law and Justice at the College, McCormack worked as a liaison between the United Nations and ACJS, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that fosters professional and scholarly activities in the field of criminal justice.
“He thought the academy should be reaching out more broadly beyond the U.S. to look at the global scene,” Finckenauer, who met McCormack when he also used to teach at the College, said.
With McCormack’s encouragement, the academy ultimately created an International Section to promote information exchange, criminal justice research, curriculum development and networking among nations.
“What a loss (his death) will be to this critical linking of the organization with the UN,” Finckenauer said. McCormack used to travel to United Nations meetings in New York City and even Italy to develop these international alliances. No one before him had taken that extra step, Finckenauer said.
With a doctorate in sociology from Fordham University and a master of criminology from the University of California-Berkeley, McCormack had the education to drive his success. Nonetheless, it might have been his personality that made all the difference.
“He made friends fast and knew people’s personalities,” John Krimmel, chair of the department of Law and Justice, said. “He made people feel as if they were part of his family,” he said of the man who mentored him after hiring him as a professor to the department.
Krimmel and McCormack easily related to one another because both were former police officers. McCormack had joined the New York City Police Department after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Some of Krimmel’s favorite memories of their friendship take him back to the buzz of jovial conversations and the savory taste of sour bread and Irish pot roast, all of which he’d enjoy at McCormack’s well-planned dinner parties.
“He’d invite just the right mix of people who got along well,” Krimmel said. “He had a knack for it. We wouldn’t want to go home.”
Finckenauer fondly remembers good times shared over dinner as well. When traveling to Italy with McCormack for a meeting, he recalls going to the kind of high-end restaurant that serves courses of meals without taking orders.
“We were wondering what we’d be eating next as the waiters and waitresses kept coming in,” he said, his voice filling with nostalgic excitement. “We laughed and laughed until my stomach was hurting.”
One of the last students to sit in McCormack’s classroom, Keith Jeronimus, junior criminal justice major, also attests to his late professor’s endearing personality and approachability.
“He was a really nice guy who was teaching here because he wanted to, not because he had to,” Jeronimus said. “He had a New York accent and he definitely knew his stuff.”
The students with whom McCormack shared his knowledge-such as Jeronimus, who aspires to be a CIA or FBI agent-are not the only ones who will carry on his legacy.
Two representatives from other NGOs that are involved in the UN Crime Congress plan to complete one of McCormack’s unfinished works: a journal featuring papers that will be presented at the panel he organized.
Fittingly, the journal will be dedicated to McCormack as a tribute to his career in criminal justice, which, even as it neared its twilight, shed light critical world issues.