From his first days at University of Richmond in 1987 through his last lectures via video recording in the fall of last year, the three words that most often accompanied David H. Dean in an economics student’s sentence were “my favorite professor.” His colleagues described him as a dedicated, tireless worker, even when mantle cell lymphoma forced him to stay away from the classroom since Oct. 22, 2012. The disease ultimately killed him Sunday, Aug. 11, at age 58. A memorial occurred Aug. 16 in the Robins Pavilion of the Jepson Alumni Center.
Students said Dean was often intimidating because of his participation-heavy lecture style and demands of excellence and hard work from his students. This earned him a nickname of “Dr. Death,” which he embraced as a means to weed out students who would be unwilling to dedicate themselves to his courses. He demanded hard work and excellence of himself as an associate professor of economics, as well, which led to him becoming a three-time recipient of the Robins School of Business Outstanding Teacher Award and a two-time recipient of the University of Richmond Distinguished Educator Award.
Dean became a great educator simply because he dedicated himself to helping his students to learn, said Bob Schmidt, the chairman of the economics department, who was among Dean’s closest friends and collaborated with him often on research, presentations and publications.
“That’s why he was passionate and demanding,” Schmidt said.
“He explained things very carefully with a focus on applicability to life,” Schmidt said. “He learned student names quickly and called on students regularly. He expected students to come to class prepared. He interjected humor into the class with a quick wit. He was very patient and always made time for his students, no matter how busy he was. He also took the time to get to know their personal as well as academic stories.”
Although senior Patrick Love, one of Dean’s students, said that Dean had been a fantastic professor, Love believed that the memorial was the greatest embodiment of Dean’s character.
“His wife, children, siblings, faculty members and lifelong friends each said a few words about the impact that Dr. Dean had on each one of their lives,” Love said. “Their words continued to exemplify his truly authentic character. Their anecdotes showed that he was the same person both inside and outside of the classroom; he seemed to have a deep care and passion for everything that he invested in—his work, his students, his friends and his family.”
Apart from teaching, Dean enjoyed music and sports, Schmidt said. Dean spent much of his free time competing in tennis, bowling, golf and even intramural basketball and softball. He also followed New York professional sports, Schmidt said. Dean had used his competitive nature, love of sports and enthusiasm to build relationships among faculty members, Schmidt said.
“He organized several faculty groups, such as golf, bowling and an office football pool,” Schmidt said. “He was one of our go-to guys for mentoring young faculty members.”
In addition to mentoring, Dean was a member of 10 university committees and councils, including three for environmental awareness. Schmidt did not think that many members of the campus community were aware that Dean had also built a national reputation for research on the economics of disability and rehabilitation, including many grants, national panels and honors from local colleagues.
On the whole, Dean had embodied the spirit of a Spider professor, said Jonathan Wight, one of Dean’s fellow economics professors.
“Dean created a spirit of collegiality, always the organizer of team-building activities,” Wight said. “He was a bright spark of laughter and considerate and encouraging to others.”
Dean is survived by his wife Holly, sons Brian and Sean, siblings Richard, Robert and Cathy and mother Jean. He graduated from Hobart College in 1976 with a bachelor’s in economics, and from Rutgers, with a master’s in 1986 and a doctorate in 1988, both in economics. His areas of expertise in the business school were labor, macroeconomics and microeconomics.
A student gathering has been planned for Friday, Sept. 6, at 4 p.m. in his former classroom, Robins School 114.
Contact reporter Zak Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org