The Unity College community mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus David Purdy (1931-2012).
He began his esteemed service to Unity College in the fall of 1976, serving as an associate professor housed in what was then called the Social and Behavioral Sciences Center. He eventually chaired that center and was promoted to full professor.
Over the years Purdy served in a variety of capacities including as Faculty Representative to the Board of Trustees from 1979-1982. He taught Environmental Politics, World Politics, Political Science and Government until his retirement in June of 2001. He would return to teach as an adjunct instructor from January 2001 through the spring semester of 2003.
A Massachusetts native, Purdy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College, a Master of Arts from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1953-1955, attaining the ranks of Second and First Lieutenant.
In retirement Purdy remained an active member of the Unity College community.
A significant philanthropic supporter of Unity College, he created a scholarship fund, the David M. Purdy Scholarship Fund. The fund supports the environmental career aspirations of students in perpetuity. Three $1,000 awards are given annually to current students who have demonstrated significant civic involvement for the betterment of the community, campus and/or beyond. Documented evidence and/or recognition of citizenship, community involvement, and stewardship would to be considered. Eligibility requires a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.00.
Many of his significant philanthropic gifts to Unity College were unknown to the College community, but positively affected the entire community.
Dean for Student Affairs Gary Zane began working for Unity College in 1984 and made the acquaintance of Purdy. He quickly grew to respect his professionalism, develop an affinity for his warm personality, and value his friendship.
“Dave was a pillar of Unity College,” Zane said. “Everything it has stood for from its origin relates to who he was as an individual. He had as much positive impact on Unity College as anyone who has worked here. He was a brilliant scholar with a humanistic approach who radiated caring for his students. Dave also possessed a pride in all that Unity College is and represents, its roots and environmental focus. When I started here I learned how resonant his pride in Unity was and what an important member of this community he was. Also, Dave conveyed a personal passion borne of his experiences in the turbulent 60’s for the importance of politics. He conveyed that to his students and they understood why it is important to be politically active.”
Gloria Sosa ’80, Unity College Trustee and Project Manager in the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Region II Emergency and Remedial Response Division (Superfund) in New York City, has fond memories of Purdy.
“David Purdy loved his students and he loved Unity College,” said Sosa. “Dave engaged us fully in political science class by encouraging complex heated discussions on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, capitalism and socialism. In addition, he invited us into his home for dinner parties where we discussed all manner of political and economic issues. I remember being with Dave after I voted in my first presidential election. Dave was always available to me when I had questions or comments on something I read, or on issues that were close to my heart. Dave went hiking and camping with his students who became his lifelong friends. Not only was he brilliant, but he was a lot of fun! I loved Dave and will honor his memory forever.”
Travis P. Wagner ’83, Ph.D., Unity College Trustees and Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, Department of Environmental Science at the University of Southern Maine, considers Purdy to be one of the most important formative figures in his life.
“Dave was one of my most important mentors at Unity as he was instrumental in helping me find myself and to find my life's calling,” Wagner said. “When I was at Unity, there was no environmental policy program as it was still a nascent field. But it was Dave, as a Professor of Political Science, fostered my interest in environmental policy through his classes, our one-on-one discussions, and his mentoring. Dave encouraged me to go to Washington, DC as an intern through ‘The Washington Center.’ With Dave's help, I was able to secure an internship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I quickly discovered that I found my career and I have Dave to thank.”
Wagner tries to uphold the exemplary example for professional performance and personal ethics set by Purdy.
“As a current faculty member, and advisor and hopefully potential mentor to students, I apply Dave's approaches to helping students find their way by focusing on being an excellent listener and offer options so that students can find their true passion,” Wagner said.
Wilson Hess, former President of Unity College, echoed Wagner’s sentiments.
"This is a passing of one of Unity College’s stalwarts – a tremendous teacher and passionate believer in our students,” Hess noted. “I was honored during my faculty years to have him ‘across the hall’ and we shared many fond discussions and ‘teachable moments.’ We all learned much from Dave."
Maine State Representative Jeff McCabe ’00 considered Purdy to be one of the most important individuals from his college experience.
“I was in a class with Dave when the clear cutting referendum was being debated,” McCabe said. “Dave told us to go interview all sides of the issue. He signed out a van and told us to get all sides of the issue and write a balanced objective paper on the issue. This changed how I looked at all issues.”
“Dave Purdy embodied the Unity College spirit. Dave brought me to the State House in the mid 90s. It was the first time I had ever been to the State House and I still have the same sense of purpose I did that day when I enter building each day as an elected Representative.”
“With Dave Purdy it was much more than doing work for a grade it was building character in students who he knew would change the world by the work they do in their perspective communities and jobs.”
Information about a memorial service will be available soon.
(Image: Professor Emeritus Dot Quimby, Professor Emeritus David Purdy, and Former President Wilson Hess at the President’s Dinner in 2005 at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts)
Update: a message to Unity College friends and family from Ryan Howes ’07:
“Dave Purdy was a man of excellence and virtue and with his heart of gold our lives have been forever touched… notice the tear of joy below his right eye.” Instructions from Dave were to ‘Bury me on the wind - or slowly on some dewy lane when fall leaves caress your cheek…and softly steal your breath away.’”
For more, please visit the Unity College Alumni Facebook page.