The University Record, October 1, 2001


Charles Frederick Cannell

Charles Frederick Cannell, professor emeritus of communications and research scientist emeritus at the Institute for Social Research, died suddenly in an auto accident Sept. 18. Always a skillful and careful driver, he apparently suffered a heart attack before losing control of his car.

His death came only a week before a long-planned University celebration of his career, an event that also was to announce the creation of a scholarship fund in his name. The scholarship fund, which will be established as a memorial to him, will support students to do research, as he did, on the determinants of validity in survey data.

His commitment to research was second only to his devotion to his family. These, along with a remarkable talent for friendship, were defining qualities of his life. Cannell—Charlie to his students as well as his colleagues and friends—was born Sept. 10, 1913, in Atrim, New Hampshire, the eldest son of Will and Hattie (Morse) Cannell.

He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1936, married Martha Osgood in 1937, and in the following year began doctoral work in clinical psychology at the Ohio State University. When the United States entered World War II, he interrupted his graduate work and moved to Washington, D.C., to join the division of the Program Surveys in the Department of Agriculture, which was rapidly becoming a general survey facility for the government. Cannell became the director of the field staff.

With the end of the war in 1945, Cannell and his colleagues in survey research—academics at heart— wanted a university base rather than continuation in government. Thus, came the decision to move to the University of Michigan, and in 1946 Cannell and his wife, as part of a small advanced guard that included Rensis Likert and Angus Campbell, moved from Washington to Ann Arbor to found the infant Survey Research Center.

At Michigan, Cannell built what was then one of the few national interviewing facilities in the country. He also wrote the doctoral dissertation that had been interrupted by the war, began to teach in the department of communication and launched the program of methodological research that gradually became his primary activity.

Cannell is the co-author with Robert Kahn of a classic text, The Dynamics of Interviewing, and the author of many other publications, chapters and journal articles that span half a century of research.

He was a consultant to the World Health Organization and invited lecturer in many countries, including England, Australia, Germany and Yugoslavia. His importance to the field of social science in general is apparent from his many honors. He was a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Psychological Association. He was a Fullbright Senior Scholar in 1981, and in 1999 the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) presented him with the AAPOR Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement.

Along with his professional activities, Cannell had a lifelong interest in athletic recreation. He was enthusiastic about golf, running and tennis. Perhaps most important, he and Martha became hikers, enjoying especially the mountain trails of Switzerland, where they hiked from their chalet headquarters in Zermatt.

Cannell is survived by his sons John (Bonnie) and Ted (Mary); grandson Scot (Jackie); granddaughters Karen Olson (Steve) and Heather Cannell; and four great grandchildren. Also surviving is his brother William. A funeral service was held at the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.

Those who wish to make contributions in Charlie’s honor may do so by contributing in his name to Arbor Hospice Residence of Ann Arbor, or to the University designation for the Charles Cannell Fund in Survey Methodology; checks for that fund should be sent to Patrick Shields, Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor 48106.

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