Miami community remembers legacy of former provost


Joseph T. Urell

By Skyler Black

A celebration of the late Miami Provost Joseph T. Urell’s life will be from 2 to 5 p.m. May 6 at the Marcum Center.

Urell died March 8, 2023 at the age of 78.

Born in Yonkers, New York Jan. 5, 1945 to Margaret and Joseph G. Urell, he grew up in New York and attended SUNY Oneonta, where he met his wife Barbra Jean McKaig.

Joseph and Barbra married in 1964 and later moved to Oxford after he earned a bachelor’s degree in geography. He later obtained a master’s degree from Miami University and a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. While earning his doctorate, he taught at Miami where he remained for 36 years. In 2004, he retired as Vice President of Academic Affairs and earned the emeritus title.

“He was very humble about his own work and his own accomplishments,” said Brian Urell, his eldest son. “He doesn’t want big fanfare, he doesn’t want awards. He didn’t need those. He felt like it was his responsibility to do his job.” 

Up until his death, Brian said his dad cared deeply about the academic decisions made at the university. His influence from his roles at Miami guide those same decisions to this day, said Brian.

Robert Johnson, former dean of the graduate school, remembers Joseph as “the best boss he had ever had” over the course of 20 years working together.

“He was understanding, he would give you clear ideas of what he wanted done, and he would support you completely,” said Johnson. “He also was one of the people at the university that has the entire university in mind. When you have the various college departments always seeking what they want, rather than what is good for the entire university, Joe always kept the vision of what was good for the entire university.”

Joseph and Barbra raised their two children in Oxford while splitting time between Ohio and their second home they built in Maine after retirement. At their second home, Joseph could do what he loved most: golfing, hiking, birdwatching and spending time with his family. 

“Family was very important to my father,” said Brian. “And one of the things I think that defines him is that he is extraordinary at being the bedrock for his family.”

Joseph prioritized family dinners and would attend Brian’s wrestling matches in high school while Barbara supported his youngest son, Peter, at his swim meets. 

“He gave my brother and I tremendous opportunities,” said Brian. “And I think that’s a reflection of who he wanted to be in life.”

Brian remembers family dinners and a memorable deep sea fishing trip in South Carolina gone awry with his father and brother in middle school, in which he recalls “not catching anything,  but having this silent understanding that [they] had all been through something together.”

“I am really grateful for the time and the opportunity that I had to know him,” said Brian. “Not only as the man who raised me, but as a roommate and a friend toward the end, and I can only hope that I can live up to who he was as I try to live my life to honor his memory.”

Joseph is survived by his late wife Barbra Jean; his two sons Brian Urell and Peter Urell; grandchildren Hannah, Matthew, Elijah and Maggie; brothers Jackie Picciano, Cathay Urell and Margie Urell; Jessica Huffman, Conner Means and Cooper Means.

The celebration of life, hosted by Brian and Peter Urell, is open to all.