Tributes to John J. Willingham, PhD, CPA
John J. Willingham ("Pa" to his 10 grandchildren), passed away peacefully at his home on April 19, 2006 surrounded by his family. He was 71 and is survived by his wife of 34 years, Carol, and their five children, John, Scott, Andy, Lynna and Mark. John was born in Charleston, Illinois and received a BA from Eastern Illinois University (where he later received an Honorary Doctorate), a Masters degree from Penn State University and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.
John served as Professor of Accounting at Penn State University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Houston. During these years he authored numerous research articles and several widely used Accounting and Auditing textbooks, some of which were translated into different languages. In 1978 he joined KPMG Peat Marwick in the executive office in New York City as partner in charge of audit research for the firm world-wide. He retired from public accounting in 1993 and moved to Austin where he taught at the University of Texas until 1997.
John served the Auditing Section as Vice Chair-Practice from 1982 to 1984. In 1991, he received the Auditing Section's Distinguished Service in Auditing Award. During his career with KPMG, John managed the firm's highly successful Research Opportunities in Auditing program, and in this role made a significant, positive impact not only on the literature comprising the intellectual foundation of auditing, but also on the professional careers of dozens, if not hundreds, of accounting and auditing scholars. The Section-sponsored monograph Auditing Practice, Research and Education: A Productive Collaboration was dedicated to John Willingham for his lifelong support of auditing research, education and practice. The dedication appearing at the beginning of the monograph reads:
During his distinguished career as an auditing researcher, educator, and practitioner, John J. Willingham has made major contributions to the discipline of auditing through his efforts to foster research collaboration between the academic and practicing communities. In recognition of the significant impact these efforts have made on the advancement of auditing knowledge, the members of the American Accounting Association Auditing Section Research Monograph Subcommittee dedicate this monograph to John J. Willingham.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of John. Our lives have been enriched through our years of association with him, as a cherished friend in our personal lives and a treasured colleague in our work. In the remaining sections of this tribute, other former colleagues remember John and the impact he made on our profession and on their careers.
Timothy Bell and Bernie Milano
KPMG LLP and KPMG Foundation
We acknowledged John Willingham's professional contributions to auditing and auditing research some years ago, including the key roles he played in linking research and practice and in supporting scores of auditing researchers in countless ways [R.H. Ashton and A. H. Ashton, Eds., Judgment and Decision-Making Research in Accounting and Auditing, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. xvi]. We concluded, "Our field has benefited greatly from John Willingham's many contributions, and our debt to him is significant." The "our" in that sentence referred to the field of auditing research, and to its members as a group.
Our own debt to John is personal as well as professional. He was our beloved friend, and we cherish memories of many good times with John across the years. We consider John a model of an insightful and accomplished academic, who deeply valued striking a balance between his "work" life and the rest of his life. That he succeeded is clear to those fortunate enough to know his wife, Carol—for decades his partner in all that he did.
John seemed somewhat embarrassed when his colleagues made a fuss over him with book dedications and professional honors and awards—but we could tell that he was pleased in his own quiet way. He no doubt would be embarrassed to read this issue of The Auditor's Report. But we suspect he would also be quite moved by these expressions of appreciation for his leadership and by the recognition of his substantial legacy.
Robert H. Ashton and Alison Hubbard Ashton
The Fuqua School of Business
John J. Willingham had a profound effect on auditing education, research, and practice as well as on the careers of many auditing educators including my own. John was a pioneer in the subject of the behavioral aspects of accounting and auditing. Because of his impressive early work in this area, I was motivated to join the University of Texas faculty largely for the opportunity to work with him. John invited me to collaborate with him on an auditing textbook that he had been working on for some time. That book, Auditing Concepts and Methods, was published in 1971 and was the first book to emphasize a conceptual approach to the teaching of auditing. It stimulated change in the way that auditing was taught as well as publication of several competing books with a conceptual orientation.
Later when I was serving at the AICPA, I recommended John for the auditing educator position on the senior auditing standard-setting committee because of his ability to bridge auditing theory and practice. The auditing practitioners respected his opinions and suggestions, and he impressed some of them enough that he became the leading candidate to head Peat Marwick's newly created Research Opportunities in Auditing program. John was also directly admitted to partnership and made significant contributions to the firm's auditing practice as well as to its research program.
John was a clear, creative thinker and had an extremely distinguished career. I am grateful to have had the honor of knowing him and working with him.
D. R. Carmichael
Former Chief Auditor, PCAOB, and Professor of Accounting, Baruch College
John Willingham was one of the first to realize that the practice and theory of auditing would benefit from a research foundation and became a pioneer of audit research in the 1960s. When KPMG needed a respected academic to take over its audit research program in the 1970s, John was obviously the leading candidate and fortunately decided to join the firm. Although the research he directed within the firm, supervising both employees and visiting faculty, was important and award-winning, it was through his direction of the Research Opportunities in Auditing Program, funded by the KPMG Foundation, that his influence was most felt. Through his direction of the grant selection process and his mentorship of grant recipients, he encouraged and enabled a broad range of methods and researchers, enlarging not only the knowledge base of auditing, but the number of committed faculty as well. During his tenure at KPMG, largely because of his influence, the prestige of auditing and audit research in higher education escalated significantly. He not only enlarged auditing's research foundation, but helped transmit it to future generations of auditors through his leading and popular textbooks. John will be missed as both a giant of auditing and as a warm and caring human being.
Robert K. Elliott
Retired Partner, KPMG LLP
The passing of John Willingham is a significant loss to the field of auditing. In his service as an educator at the University of Texas – Austin and his long term as a partner at KPMG, his contributions to auditing research and education were outstanding. His consistent extensive participation in auditing research activities while running the Research Opportunities in Auditing program at KPMG were major factors in the early careers of many auditing academics. His personal contributions to behavioral auditing research were also notable. Many of us can recall good advice received while struggling with research ideas and designs. His career stands as a model for all of us. We will miss him.
William L Felix, Jr.
Professor of Accounting, University of Arizona
John Willingham was a truly outstanding leader of auditing education, research, and practice. He was sometimes referred to as the "father of behavioral research in auditing," having written one of the first behavioral auditing dissertations and having supervised numerous behavioral auditing doctoral dissertations and other research projects. He contributed significantly to auditing education, research, and practice, including coauthoring (with Doug Carmichael) a leading auditing text that was highly respected for its keen insight and concise articulation of basic concepts of auditing, serving on the Auditing Standards Executive Committee (predecessor of the Auditing Standards Board), and leading the KPMG Research Opportunities in Auditing program that stimulated an impressive amount of auditing research over a couple of decades. He was indeed a prolific initiator, major supporter, and author of a large body of auditing research as well as a valuable mentor for so many auditing students, researchers, and practitioners.
For those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him, John was an excellent colleague and friend. He lived a good life and contributed so much to so many. What more could anyone ask of life! Thank you, John, for all you have given to so many of us.
Associate Chief Auditor and Director of Research, PCAOB
John Willingham played a critical role in my own development as an academic, and more importantly, in the development of auditing as a fundamental area of study. He was my teacher, sponsor, and advocate, at a time when few thought that auditing was an area worthy of study, and even fewer thought that I was worthy to study it. He gave his knowledge, influence, money, and time toward the development of generations of auditors and auditing scholars. I cannot imagine where my own career would have led or what the current state of auditing would be without his support.
My own association with John began in the early 1980s when he and his firm sponsored my work and subsequently asked me to join them in their own research efforts. Our relationship grew from there into co-authorship and friendship. Two attributes always stood out about John. The first was his amazing ability to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners, two groups that can rarely even recognize when they are talking about the same topic. The second was that he was always such a pleasure to be around. He was smart, funny, even-tempered, unassuming, and interesting. I always looked forward to my meetings with John, whether they were professional in nature, or they involved a chance for my wife Pat and I to see John and Carol socially. We were lucky enough to visit with Carol and her family and friends after John's funeral. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about a wonderful human being.
Professor of Accounting, Cornell University
With the recent passing of John Willingham, the academic and professional auditing community lost one of its true leaders. While John made many contributions to our profession, I want to mention one in particular. John was one of the founders of KPMG's Research Opportunities in Auditing (ROA) Program. The ROA program was the major supporter of audit research during in the 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, research in auditing grew at an exponential rate. Under John's insightful leadership, the program provided not only financial support, but more importantly, access to data and subjects. This allowed many of us who received grants to conduct audit research that might not have been possible without support from the ROA program.
I also want to mention John's personal attributes. As a young researcher in the early 1980s, I always found John more than willing to spend time to provide advice on auditing issues. His guidance helped me, and I'm sure numerous other researchers, to grow into productive scholars. John also had great sense of humor and an infectious laugh. He will be sorely missed.
William F. Messier, Jr.
Professor of Accounting, Georgia State University
I knew John Willingham from his writings before I met him. One of the earliest editions of John's auditing textbook (With Doug Carmichael) is still, in my view, one of the premier conceptual treatises on auditing ever published. It was via that textbook and John's pioneering doctoral dissertation and other behavioral research that I came to know him as a scholar before I had actually had the pleasure to make his acquaintance.
Later, I interacted with John in his role as manager of the Research Opportunities in Auditing (ROA) Program. One such interaction was with respect to a project that had been awarded funding under the program. John recognized that while the research funds were important, even more important was access to the professionals and data that were resident within what now is KPMG LLP. I was a significant beneficiary of such generosity. Another such interaction was when A. Rashad Abdel khalik and I approached John about supporting a sequel to the original ROA book. Here again, John was extremely helpful not only with respect to the financial dimensions of what became known as ROA: The Second Decade, but also with respect to his own expertise and the non-monetary resources of the firm.
Once he joined KPMG LLP, John envisioned and worked to establish either via the Executive Office itself or in concert with the KPMG Foundation several programs. One of these programs provided an opportunity for members of the scholarly community to spend some time with him and his colleagues (most notably, Tim Bell) as a Research Fellow in the Montvale, New Jersey Executive Office. I was one of the fortunate few who were given that opportunity by John. During that year, I had the fortune to join teams working on extant research projects, but I also was given an invaluable opportunity to pursue issues in which I had a special interest. During that year, I witnessed what humility John had, despite a resume that could make a lesser person difficult to be around. And, it was during the year that I spent in Montvale that I formed what has turned out to be an extremely robust and important working relationship with Tim Bell of KPMG. For all of this, I am and will be eternally grateful to John Willingham.
R.C. Evans Endowed Chair in Business
Head, Department of Accountancy
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
I was working in Houston for Peat Marwick Mitchell and Co. when I decided to investigate an academic career. I stopped by the Accounting Department at the University of Houston where I first met John Willingham. He was then serving as the chairman of the Department of Accounting. Little did I know the profound impact that this short visit would have on my life. John convinced me to join the Ph.D. program, and during my studies at the University of Houston served as my professor, dissertation chairman, and mentor. It is hard to imagine that I could have found anyone in the country that was better to work with than John. His conceptual understanding of both auditing and accounting was phenomenal. He was always willing to spend time helping me formulate ideas, reading my papers, and providing me with advice. I owe much of my success to John Willingham and I am fortunate to have known both John and Carol.
Dean, College of Business, DePaul University
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Auditing Section and a long time admirer and colleague, on behalf of the Section I am honored to provide a tribute to John Willingham. John has indeed had an important and lasting impact on auditing research, practice, and education. I am among a very large number of professors who credit my interest in auditing research and education to John's landmark efforts in overseeing the Research Opportunities In Auditing (ROA) Program at KPMG. This program literally "put auditing research on the map" where it was previously of interest or even known by very few professors. John's enthusiasm, support, and wisdom were instrumental to the tremendous success of the ROA program in inspiring professors to devote their careers to the field of auditing.
Through my association with the Auditing Section and as a recipient of ROA research grants, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with John on a number of occasions. I was always greatly impressed by John's vision, warmth, and enthusiasm. He deeply believed in the importance of collaboration between the auditing profession and academe. Once an ROA grant was awarded he had great trust and respect for researchers and provided whatever support he could toward the completion of the project to ensure its success in promoting advances to the practice and/or theory of the profession.
On a personal level, John always greeted people with a warm smile and hello. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. We all looked forward to John's presentations at conferences for we knew that he would provide not only a word of inspiration but also a smile and a laugh or two. In all, I count myself very fortunate to have known him.
Perhaps the best measure of a person's accomplishment in life is to have made a difference. There is no doubt that John Willingham met this threshold. Auditing educators, practitioners, and the Auditing Section owe John a great deal of gratitude for his many significant contributions.
Professor of Accounting, Boston College