Rice remembers John Bryant, professor emeritus of economics

Longtime professor remembered as ‘a humble man who was most proud of his relationships with his students’

John Bryant, a professor emeritus in the Department of Economics remembered for pathbreaking work that challenged his colleagues’ conventional thinking in many dimensions, died April 2 after a long illness. He was 72.

John Bryant.

John Bryant.

Nobel laureates and professors from around the world expressed their admiration for his contributions to their profession, Rice Economics Department Chair George Zodrow noted upon Bryant’s retirement in 2016. But despite his many career accomplishments, Bryant’s colleagues remember him as a humble man who loved to teach and mentor young economists and was most proud of his relationship with his students.

“John was a remarkable scholar, authoring several seminal articles in game theory and macroeconomics, including papers on the famous Bryant Stag Hunt coordination game, as well as on numerous aspects of monetary theory and policy,” Zodrow said. “And he was a great colleague and friend, who always had a kind word and a smile for faculty members and students alike.”

Bryant was named the Henry S. Fox Associate Professor of Economics and Professor of Management upon his arrival at Rice in 1981, and he was promoted to full professor only four years later. Throughout his 35-year career at Rice, he developed complex theories on macroeconomics, monetary policy, game theory and the fragility of financial markets. He also served as director of graduate studies in economics and on the Rice admissions committee for several years, and was acting chair of his department in spring 1988.

Bryant published articles in his profession’s most prestigious journals, including the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, Econometrica, the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Review of Economic Studies.

Before his career at Rice, Bryant worked as an economist and inventories expert at the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., and as a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He was a visiting professor at the University of Florida in 1980.

During his time at Rice, Bryant was also a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in 1988-89 and at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands in 1998-99.

“I was lucky to know John Bryant at the Minneapolis Fed,” said Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent, who spoke at Rice’s RISE Nobel Laureate Lecture Series in 2015. “He was doing pathbreaking work, some by himself, some with Neil Wallace, that changed the way I thought about whole classes of problems in macroeconomics and monetary economics. That theoretical work on bank panics, rate-of-return dominance and the effects of open market operations was ‘creative destruction‘ for me. It torpedoed ways I had been taught to think of things but opened up new possibilities and helped not only me but a bunch of other people to think better.

“To me, he’ll always be that person at the Minneapolis Fed asking out-of-the-box questions that were often upsetting at first, but then enlightening on further thought.”

Zodrow said Bryant was a devoted football fan, regularly attending Rice games — while sometimes reading a book between plays — and was a lifelong follower of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He served for many years as a faculty associate at Wiess College and was honored several times as the college’s “Outstanding Associate.”

Born July 7, 1947, in Washington, D.C., he was the son of Royal Calvin Bryant and Martha Prebble Jones Bryant. Bryant was raised in Arlington, Virginia, and attended Oberlin College, graduating summa cum laude in 1969 with a degree in economics. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1975.

He is survived by his wife, artist Sandi Seltzer Bryant, to whom he was married for 46 years; daughter Aryn Royale Bryant; son-in-law Shaun McClintock; and older brothers William Bryant and David Bryant.

In light of the current pandemic, private graveside services with immediate family will be held at Beth Israel Memorial Garden Cemetery. A public service will be announced at a later date. A memorial is online at https://www.jewishfuneralsusa.com/obituary/376984/DR-JOHN-BRYANT/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.