Wilson had moved to Boston several years ago to become a senior fellow at the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy and a member of the political science department at Boston College.
Regarded as one of the most important social commentators of his time on issues of crime and the urban condition, Wilson taught political science at Harvard for 26 years before coming to UCLA, where he was the James Collins Professor of Management and Public Policy at the Anderson School and a member of the political science department from 1985 until 1997.
In 2003, together with Coach John Wooden, he went to the White House, where both received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the government, from President George W. Bush. Wilson was honored for his work and writings on public policy.
About 10 days before the White House ceremony, Wilson told UCLA Today, he received a call from a White House secretary. She asked him, "How do I know I’m talking to the right James Wilson?" Only after Wilson rattled off the names of some of his books did she tell him about the award.
"I was floored," Wilson said. "I had no idea this was coming."
He was the author or coauthor of more than 15 books, including "Moral Judgment"
(Basic Books), the "Moral Sense" (Free Press), "Thinking About Crime" (Free Press) and "Crime and Human Nature" (with Richard J. Herrnstein, Simon & Schuster). In addition, he edited or contributed to books on urban problems, government regulation of business, drugs, crime, and the prevention of delinquency among children. Many of his writings on morality and human character have been collected in "On Character: Essays by James Q. Wilson."
But the article he will most likely be remembered most for was co-written with Kelling and published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982. In it, he told a writer from The Wall Street Journal last year, he maintained that "public order is a fragile thing, and if you don’t fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken." That approach was hailed by advocates of community policing and many policymakers.
Wilson served on a number of national commissions concerned with public policy. He was chairman of the White House Task Force on Crime in 1966, chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Drug Abuse Prevention in 1972-1973, a member of the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime in 1981, a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1985 to 1991 and a member of the board of directors of the Police Foundation from 1971 to 1993. He also served on the President’s Council on Bioethics. He also became the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.
In 1990 the American Political Science Association presented him with the James Madison Award for a career of distinguished scholarship and in 1991-1992 he served as the association's president. In 1994 he received the John Gaus Award for "exemplary scholarship in the fields of political science and public administration."
He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society.
Educated at the University of Redlands in 1952 and the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. in 1959, Wilson received honorary degrees from seven universities, including Harvard.
Professor Wilson was a gifted, dedicated and well-respected teacher. In 1986, he won the Executive MBA Program Teaching Award given at the Anderson School. In the political science deparment and at the Anderson School, he taught courses on the political environment of business, the morality of capitalism, bureaucracy, public administration and public policy, and the manager and business/society relations.
To read his obituary in the Washington Post, go here