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April 17, 2008

Obituary: David B. Houston Jr.

David B. Houston Jr., professor emeritus of economics, died April 4, 2008. He was 77.

Houston earned his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and began his career as a professor at the Wharton School. He taught at UCLA and Penn State before joining the Pitt faculty in 1966. At Pitt, Houston taught regional and urban economics and economic theory and was among the founders of the alternative curriculum experimental freshman program. He retired in 1993.

Colleague Frank Giarratani recalled Houston as a brilliant man who had deep insight and a keen ability to cut to the core issues of any problem.

Houston initially was a specialist on the insurance industry, but gained an interest in urban and regional problems after sharing offices at the Wharton School with several pioneers of the new academic field, said Giarratani.

Giarratani said Houston’s stay at UCLA was rocky. “He was unsuited for a business school environment,” Giarratani said, enumerating two critical errors Houston committed: He grew a beard and spoke out against business school professors’ practice of taking on lucrative consulting positions. The latter action was emblematic of how he conducted the rest of his academic life, Giarratani said, adding that Houston was a thorn in the side of Pitt’s administration on issues ranging from the Vietnam War to the curriculum and the democratization of the University.

“He was a man of very, very solid principles,” particularly on issues of social justice. “He did everything in his power so the voice of those at the margins of society were heard with equal force as the voice of those with money and power,” Giarratani said.

Houston turned his attention to urban and regional economics and social justice — two threads that came to define the early part of his career, Giarratani said. Later, he developed a commitment to radical political economics and Marxism. He was a member of the Union of Radical Political Economists and became managing editor of the Review of Radical Political Economics.

Houston suffered a stroke in 1996; ensuing medical problems contributed to his death. “He never lost who he was through all of it,” Giarratani said.

Houston is survived by his wife, Janice L. Carlino; two daughters, Penelope and Heidi; a son, Mark, and a granddaughter, Laura.

A celebration of Houston’s life will be held in the Houston-Carlino home at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 19. For information call 412/727-0200 or email

Memorial contributions may be made to Just Harvest, 16 Terminal Way, Pittsburgh 15219; Animal Rescue League, 6620 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh 15208, or Bethlehem Haven Shelter for Homeless Women, 905 Watson Street, Pittsburgh 15219.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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