Professor Emeritus John Milner, who was a professor of social work at USC for 31 years, died at his home on Jan. 29. He was 97.
A distinguished teacher with special expertise in child welfare, Milner was a USC professor from 1946 until his retirement in 1977. He served as acting dean of the USC School of Social Work in 1971. He also taught for 18 summers at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he held a lifetime professorship.
In addition to teaching, Milner lectured, conducted workshops and served as a consultant in a wide range of public and voluntary settings in many states as well as in Guam, England and Canada. Well after retirement, he continued to teach seminars through the Emeriti College at USC.
“John was one of the most respected faculty in the school,” said Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work. “After his retirement, he continued his connections with the school, faculty and alumni, mentoring and supporting others to the end.”
He received a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1934 and his master’s degree in social work from Columbia University in 1946. He began his career in his hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho, where he worked as a consultant administering emergency relief and, later, as director of the federal transient program.
He then became associate director of the Ryther Child Center in Seattle and in this position helped introduce residential treatment centers to the United States. He also served as casework director for the Children’s Protective Society in San Francisco. In the 1940s, he was a psychologist in the U.S. Army.
Milner was a founding member of the Delinquency Control Institute at USC, which provides specialized training for law enforcement professionals and others working with youth to prevent and control/correct juvenile offenders and to improve the justice system. He also directed the USC Head Start Training Program.
Throughout his career, Milner published in numerous journals and magazines, including Parent Magazine, Child Welfare Journal, Federal Probation Journal and the Social Worker Journal. He also won awards for his teaching and was named best teacher of the year by the National Association of Social Work.
“John Milner: A Teacher for All Seasons,” published in the Journal of Teaching in Social Work in 1989, captured the qualities that characterized his professional career.
As a teacher, he enthralled students and inspired volunteers to active participation in agency service. He encouraged communities and social agencies, including the Veterans Administration, to institute or refine programs centered on children, families and the elderly.
“I am so proud to be associated with John’s work, his many achievements and his legacy,” said Jacquelyn McCroskey, the John Milner Professor of Child Welfare at the USC School of Social Work – an endowed professorship created in his honor in 1975. “He set a very high bar for those of us who follow him – combining a practical approach to service improvement with deep and thoughtful analysis of social issues. No wonder so many generations of students were inspired by his teaching and his example.”
Milner quietly advocated the importance of adhering to dearly held fundamental principles. For example, he declined to teach in a building on the Tulane University campus to which African-American students could not be admitted under the terms of the will establishing the building. The following year, the covenant was abandoned, and black students officially were welcomed.
A dedicated believer in volunteerism, Milner devoted considerable time and energy to volunteer activities on boards of directors, on civic and agency committees, and in various professional organizations.
He was active in the volunteer program of McLaren Home, a Los Angeles County shelter and detention facility for children. With more than half a century of contributions in social welfare, Milner garnered awards across the United States.
A memorial service will be held at USC on March 3.
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