Paul Adolph Volcker Jr. was born on Sept. 5, 1927 — Labor Day — in Cape May, on the southern tip of New Jersey, where his father was the city manager. Paul moved as a child to Teaneck, a leafy North Jersey suburb, which had recruited his father to keep the town from bankruptcy.
Mr. Volcker credited his father with inspiring his own career as a public servant.
Nicknamed Buddy by his family, Mr. Volcker had three older sisters — like him, they were all more than six feet tall — and all were so determined not to spoil him that “they leaned over backward to abuse me,” he told a biographer.
A reserved youth, he became a top student and, thanks to his height, a member of the varsity basketball team at Teaneck High School. Journalists seeking tales of teenage high jinks have come up empty-handed.
“When my buddies went shooting out streetlights, I said goodbye,” Mr. Volcker recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2010.
After graduating from high school in May 1945, with the end of World War II still months away, Mr. Volcker tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because he was an inch too tall. He decided to apply to Princeton University, despite his father’s warning that the other students there were very smart. Mr. Volcker was soon getting top marks. He would later observe wryly of his classmates, “They weren’t as smart as my father thought.”
At Princeton, Mr. Volcker pursued a new major that combined the study of economics, politics and history. Searching for a thesis topic his senior year, he decided to write about the Federal Reserve. He produced a 250-page analysis entitled “The Problems of Federal Reserve Policy Since World War II.” It argued that the Fed needed to act more firmly to control inflation.
His adviser, Frank D. Graham, encouraged him to pursue a graduate degree in economics. Mr. Volcker applied both to the Harvard Law School and to Harvard’s Littauer School of Public Administration (later the John F. Kennedy School of Government), which he chose when it offered a full ride.