Cannon Family Ties Inspire Gift for SSA Scholarships

Support honors memory of former SSA professor

By Paula Tsurutani

News Type
SSA Magazine (Archive)


Robert Cannon, AB '83, is President of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO. In this interview he talks about the William B. Cannon Scholarship, which honors his father William, PhB '47 and AM '49, a professor at SSA, who devoted his life to fighting poverty and inequality.

School of social work sign



William Cannon, PhB '47, AM '49, was a professor at SSA. Cannon and his wife came to campus after World War II and lived in temporary housing on the Midway, where they developed friendships and a life-long connection with the University. In addition to teaching at SSA, Cannon also held administrative positions at the University of Chicago. Cannon was concerned his whole life about poverty and inequality. He held a number of important positions for the federal government in Washington, D.C. and was part of President Johnson's inner circle of advisors. Cannon is credited for shaping the War on Poverty's Community Action Program, which funded anti-poverty initiatives at the local level. His family is remembering him by establishing the William B. Cannon Scholarship at SSA. His son Robert Cannon, AB '83, discusses his father's involvement with SSA and the University in an interview in which he also commends the work of the first two recipients of the scholarship.


Man in a black suit with blue tie


Why did you start the William B. Cannon Scholarship fund?

Part of the reason was that the fund creates an enduring way to honor my father, whose life focused on service and community. Another part was to acknowledge the University of Chicago's role in the Cannon family. The connections run deep. My parents' lives were dramatically shaped by the University. After serving in World War II, they came back to Chicago and—thanks to the GI Bill—both attended the University. They lived in the pre-fabs located on the Midway, and Dad would tell us many stories about the years spent there, the friendships he and my mother made, and how proud they felt to be a part of this special community. I myself graduated from the College in 1983 and worked at Argonne and the medical school. My older sister Julia, AB '71, also met her husband on campus and got married in Bond Chapel. Growing up, our family dinners included lively discussions about my father's years at the University, as well as his work on the War on Poverty in the Johnson Administration. The University of Chicago was so important to my dad. He thought it was the best place—a great intellectual space. 

What is your personal philosophy about philanthropy?

It can be summarized very simply: When life brings you good fortune you should spend a little, save a little, and give a little back. When my father died, I spoke with my sister about starting the scholarship to honor him, his life's work, and his commitment to poverty-related issues. Having such a scholarship was important so my children could remember and learn more about my father. And my wife and I wanted to pass down an important value set about giving back to society. 

Tell us about meeting Kaitlyn McGovern, the first William B. Cannon scholarship recipient.

My wife and I hosted a dinner at our home with Kaitlyn, SSA Dean Neil Guterman, and community friends and prominent civic leaders, including the head of the Ferguson Commission, the independent commission appointed by the Governor of Missouri, charged with making recommendations following the death of Michael Brown. This is a group with similar values and interests in issues related to poverty and inequality. 

It was a wonderful moment! We saw mature leaders — with years of experience — interacting with a younger person who was carrying the torch. Kaitlyn represents the best of young people who want to make a difference (see sidebar to learn more about Kaitlyn). A year later, when I see folks who were part of the evening, they still remember and talk about the dinner in the most positive terms. It was an occasion to recharge our batteries about our own work. And it made everyone feel confident and good that future generations were ready and prepared to carry on the struggle. 

The second Cannon Scholarship recently has been awarded to Jessica Cardott. What are your hopes for her and future Cannon scholarship recipients?

We are so proud to have learned that Jessica was awarded a Cannon Scholarship. Her passion for and commitment to the underserved embodies our goals for the scholarship. Her interest in social administration demonstrates how SSA is training the leaders of tomorrow in shaping or re-shaping policies impacting the underserved. While still in the midst of her studies, Jessica is already looking forward to making an even greater impact on society. Brava! We couldn’t be more thrilled to help support her on this journey. The SSA faculty and students are engaged in some of the most meaningful work of our time. We feel so very fortunate to be able to help SSA and its students through the Cannon Scholars.

What do you wish people knew about SSA?

I'd like them to know how SSA provides a broader understanding of the underlying issues affecting poverty and inequality and how the costs to society are enormous. It's really a false economy to underinvest in social services. 

I'd also like people to recognize the hard work and contributions made by those who choose careers in social work. I see the importance and impact of their work here in St. Louis, where I head a major teaching hospital with 10,000 employees, and 1,300 beds. What happens outside of the hospital happens inside the hospital. We see the effects of poverty and inequality at the hospital every day. We work hard to help patients who are illiterate, come from poor social structures, and have an inability to comply due to lack of funds. You find out how fragile people are.

To have SSA graduates to support people in need, to help fill that void, and to build an infrastructure is critical. We need a pipeline of motivated people like Kaitlyn and Jessica.

What would you say to someone who is interested in making a gift to SSA?

You can make no better investment. It will make a difference. You’ll feel good about it and the stewardship will be great. Whether your gift is large or small, your contribution will be put to good use.


Your support will allow us to offer competitive scholarships to students who will make an enduring impact in the world.

Please consider a gift to the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

As students, William B. Cannon and his wife lived in one of the 201 prefabricated homes located on the Midway Plaisance during the 1940s. These two and three room units housed families of veterans who were students. Rent was $40 to $45 a month and included electricity, fuel for heating and cooking, and a garbage disposal service. Courtesy, the University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf2-02873], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


As students, William B. Cannon and his wife lived in one of the 201 prefabricated homes located on the Midway Plaisance during the 1940s. These two and three room units housed families of veterans who were students. Rent was $40 to $45 a month and included electricity, fuel for heating and cooking, and a garbage disposal service. Courtesy, the University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf2-02873], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.  



Rober Cannon

 William B. Cannon had a longtime association with the University of Chicago, starting in 1941 when he enrolled as a student. World War II interrupted his studies between 1943 and 1946. After a serving in the army, he and his wife returned to Chicago to continue their studies. Cannon received an AB in 1947, followed by an AM in political science in 1949. 

Throughout his life, Cannon maintained a strong commitment to the poor in his positions in academia and public service. He served in senior administrative positions under several University presidents, including Edward Levi, John Wilson, and Hanna Gray. In the 1960s Cannon moved into the national political arena, working at the Bureau of the Budget (now the Office of Management and Budget). Between 1962 and 1965 he was Assistant Chief of the Office of Legislative Reference for Health, Education, and Welfare Programs. As part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's inner circle of advisors, Cannon is credited for shaping the War on Poverty's Community Action Program (CAP), which funded anti-poverty initiatives at the local level. He became Chief of the Bureau's Education, Manpower, and Science Division in 1965, and two years later was named Director of Operational Coordination and Policy Research. He was active on Presidential Task Forces on education in 1964 and 1967.

Cannon returned to the University of Chicago in 1968, serving as Vice President for Programs and Projects until 1974. At the invitation of Lady Bird Johnson, he left Chicago to serve as dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. When he returned to the University of Chicago in 1976, Cannon joined SSA, where he taught courses on public policy until his retirement in 1989. Former SSA dean Harold Richman admired Cannon's "remarkable combination of idealism and pragmatism and his down-to-earth, common sense approach to often complex policy problems. He was successful here because he could appreciate the basic scholarship that was a hallmark of the place, and he could find its connection to contemporary policy issues."

Cannon's son Robert says, "He never stopped talking about Chicago as the greatest University in the world, and knew the history of the University in great depth. He considered his appointment as a tenured SSA faculty member to be his life's greatest achievement." 


Kaitlyn McGovern


After completing her undergraduate degree,  Kaitlyn McGovern — the first recipient of the William B. Cannon Scholarship — weighed her career options. As an undergraduate, she had been a double major in economics and international studies. But her classes in community action and social change, along with her volunteer work, "pushed me to pursue social service and social justice — particularly issues of poverty and economic inequality."

Her undergraduate economics classes, while enjoyable, sidestepped discussions about ways to change economic and political systems to better serve the poor and disadvantaged. "I saw that many populations were underserved by these systems, and I began to understand power and privilege from a new perspective. I wanted to play an active role in driving large-scale social change. I believe that, currently, the job market and welfare safety net do not accommodate many populations. Creating quality employment opportunities for the most disadvantaged job seekers is one way to provide this decent standard of living for more people."

Those interests brought McGovern to SSA where she concentrated in social administration and completed the poverty and inequality program of study. Her classes with Associate Professors Evelyn Brodkin and Susan Lambert, exploring economic development, workforce development, and the welfare system, challenged and influenced her deeply.

McGovern's field placement at the Chicago Jobs Council (CJC) in their Frontline Focus Training Institute allowed her to be part of a small, well established, and respected organization that seeks to ensure employment opportunities and career advancement opportunities for the most disadvantaged job seekers. As an intern, McGovern worked in a department that specifically builds capacity in the workforce development field by providing professional training and networking opportunities. She was in charge of the department's marketing and evaluation efforts, coordinated committee meetings, and assisted with training curriculum development and facilitation.

After McGovern graduated from SSA, her internship evolved into a full time position. Today, she helps develop CJC's capacity building efforts by creating and facilitating professional development trainings, manages the organization's Frontline Workforce Association's bi-monthly events, and investigates new ways to support the workforce development field.

"Receiving this scholarship gave me more freedom to pursue my studies without the pressure and stress of additional debt," she says. "It also gave me more confidence in my choices to pursue poverty and inequality as a concentration. I am confident I can effect change for the poor and disadvantaged in my career as a social worker."


Jessica Cardott

Jessica Cardott, the second William B. Cannon Scholarship recipient, developed her interest in social work by working at a domestic violence agency in south Florida, where she began working after receiving her undergraduate degree.

"Then I moved to Chicago and worked primarily as a case manager and employment specialist for people with disabilities. I started my career in social work because I was interested in applying my advocacy for marginalized identities outside of academia."

Cardott chose SSA because of its strong programs for students pursuing policy and administrative social work. "Before making a decision, I sat in on a class and was impressed by the critical theoretical engagement that students had with the material. That really appealed to me because it reminded me f my undergraduate experience at New College of Florida," she said.

She was impressed by the number of female faculty engaged in policy and organizational theory. The School's long history in social services and ommunity organizing made it an ideal location for studying social work. SSA's scholarship opportunities also made the school attractive. 

Cardott is concentrating in social administration with an emphasis in policy and management. Through her field placement in the policy department of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, she does research and assists with campaign initiatives, including "Home Works," which advocates for increased funding and access to supportive housing.

Cardott has been impressed by the SSA faculty. "Assistant Professor Alida Bouris had a deep commitment to our personal growth and sold me on identifying as a social worker and engaging with the role at both a direct service and macro capacity. She also challenged us to think critically about the work that we do and what we want to accomplish."

Cardott has worked as a research assistant with Associate Professor Susan Lambert on workplace instability and inequality issues. After graduation, she would like to work at an advocacy organization that focuses on policy and lobbying against the mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders and people of color.

She is grateful for the scholarship support she has received at SSA. "The Cannon scholarship afforded me the opportunity to attend the ideal program to support my interests and advocacy goals. Having the scholarship also allows me to cite my commitment to fighting poverty and inequality to future employers."