Psychology professor James Rest dies at 58

by Sean Madigan

James R. Rest, a professor of educational psychology and a co-founder of the University’s Center for the Study of Ethical Development, died Saturday from a degenerative genetic disorder. He was 58.
“Professor Rest exemplified the very highest levels of excellence in all aspects of University life,” said Robert Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost. “His work was recognized throughout the world,” Bruininks said of his friend and colleague of more than 30 years.
Rest and Bruininks started their careers at the University together in the same department.
Rest, an internationally renowned researcher of psychological morality, took a disability leave from the University in 1994 a year after receiving the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Diagnosed with Machado-Joseph disease in 1988 — a fatal disorder similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease — Rest continued his research at the center until his death.
Raised in New Orleans, Rest joined the University in 1970 after earning a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University. He completed his doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Chicago and a post-doctorate at Harvard University.
Among his many professional accomplishments, Rest is most widely recognized for the creation of the Defining Issues Test, a test that measures moral reasoning.
Although developed in English, Rest’s test is the preferred method for judgment measurement throughout the world. Rest also designed the Four Component Model of Morality, a method that examines the four causes for moral failure.
“It’s his test and his center,” said Christyan Mitchell a research assistant in the center. “His work was a big part of him. You knew that working hard wasn’t a labor for him, but a love.”
Besides passion for his research, Mitchell said Rest’s other true emphasis in life was his family, especially spending time with his grandson.
Rest is survived by his wife and colleague, Darcia Narvaez; daughter, Susan Asplund; former wife, Ann H. Rest; and his grandson.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, 900 Stillwater Road, in Mahtomedi.