David Dempsey celebrates with good food and drink after a vigorous climb to Refugio Otto Meiling, on Cerro Tronador volcano, in Nahuel Huapi National Park, near Bariloche, Argentina, Patagonia, South America.
 

David P. Dempsey | 1955-2020

Memories and Tributes

Tribute from Petra Dekens, Professor of Climate Sciences; Chair, Department of Earth & Climate Sciences

Tribute from Karen Grove, Professor Emerita of Geology, Former Chair, Department of Geosciences

Tribute from John Monteverdi, Emeritus Professor of Meteorology, Former Chair, Department of Geosciences

Memories and Tributes from Colleagues, Students, and Friends


Tribute to Dave, from Petra Dekens  

Dave was a mentor and a friend. When I first started at SFSU Dave co-taught a class, and he continued to offer guidance on my teaching throughout our time together at SFSU. Our teaching styles were different, but through time (and Dave’s characteristic persistence) he helped me see the classroom from the point of view of the students. He helped me realize that these students are just as bright and creative as any students anywhere else, but they would need a different kind of support and learning environment than I had seen at institutions with more privileged students. He convinced me that I could take on the challenge of being department chair, and that working with colleagues across the college and campus would be rewarding (he was right). And in Dave’s last year at SFSU he mentored me through my first year as department chair.

Dave was relentlessly optimistic. He was always up-beat, and I never heard him complain about anything. He would spend hours and hours helping students with class work or advising them on their academic and life paths. When it came to assignments I could see that the students wishing he would just ease up and make the assignment easier. But he never did! And through their frustrations those students learned more than they thought they could. His approach with colleagues was often the same. As chair he would take on challenges that the rest of us just didn’t have patience for. He would tell us all about the very complicated way to solve the problem, and much like the students, we wished he would ease up a bit and make things easier. But he never did! Ultimately the projects he took on made the department better. As the department chair who immediately followed his tenure as chair I cannot even count the number of times I’ve come to that realization.

Dave and I talked for hours about teaching, careers, the university, etc. But we were also friends that talked about life outside our jobs. When I started running in my late 30’s, he was an enthusiastic supporter. It took him a few years of telling me about the wonders of bike commuting, but he eventually converted me and my bike takes the same spot in the chair’s office that his did when he was chair. When I was struggling to find the best school solutions for my kids, he always talked about the benefits of a diverse school for his own kids, and how so much of what kids learn is at home, so don’t worry so much about it. We shared stories of traveling adventures, and how traveling in our 20’s had changed our view of the world, and how we should encourage our students and kids to do the same.

Even after he retired, Dave was always willing to give his time to help out. Unless, of course, he was doing his favorite thing in life; traveling with his family in remote locations. I will miss his long and detailed emails. I will miss chatting with him on the phone or zoom. And we will all miss his relentless optimism. 


Tribute to Dave, from Karen Grove

I will miss my friend Dave very much. He and I started our faculty positions together in 1989, and we had worked and played together ever since then. One of my first memories is the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989. Dave and I were chatting on the 6th floor of Thornton Hall when the shaking started. Dave always said how thrilled he was to experience the earthquake with a geologist, who was getting all excited and speculating about the size and location!

Dave was a pioneer in integrating technology into research and teaching. Early on, he recognized the power of the internet for instructional purposes and it was only with his encouragement and mentoring that I was able to develop extensive online teaching materials in my own classes. He and I collaborated in writing a series of successful grant proposals to purchase new computers and create new computer labs and curricular materials. With Dave’s help, I and others were able to be at the forefront in integrating technology into the classroom.

Dave’s attention to detail and perfection, although a little frustrating at times, was a tremendous benefit to me and everyone in the department. He managed our whole fleet of computers, including the California Regional Weather Server, and kept things running through holidays, upgrades, hacker attacks, and the inevitable crashes occurring at the most inconvenient times. He was always available to help any of us with our computer issues.

In 2006, I nominated Dave for a Distinguished Faculty Award for Excellence in Service and was very disappointed when he was not chosen. He truly devoted himself to serving the university community, from students to fellow faculty to administration. During his first year as department chair (2014-15), I worked with him closely as associate chair, a year of collaboration that was really rewarding. Dave was chair when I retired in 2015—his tribute to me at that time was so moving and heartfelt that I was overwhelmed, and extremely grateful. Dave always made me feel like someone special.

I loved talking with Dave about travel and outdoor adventures. Upon retirement, Dave and his wife Rebecca moved to Chico, CA, closer to where I live in Ashland, OR, with my husband Jay. We were looking forward to seeing them more frequently, and we had planned to trek together in Nepal in November 2020. We are both devastated by the loss of our good friend, and my former colleague.


Tribute to Dave, from John Monteverdi

Little did I know that when I answered the doorbell in 1988 that I would be face-to-face with the person who would help change the face of the Department of Geosciences developing meteorology programs initially and then the whole curriculum eventually.  The person at my door was Dave Dempsey, who was applying for the dynamics position in our Department and whom I was giving a ride to the demanding first day of interviews and talks at San Francisco State University.

Little did I know that this person, when he became a colleague, would also become a friend.  Little did I know that his personal touch and devotion would extend to many colleagues throughout the university, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and most importantly, the students at SFSU.

The sense of personal loss with Dave’s passing is almost overwhelming.  Even with Dave’s retirement, we stayed in contact with one another both personally, via email and phone calls, and professionally, via curated meteorological discussion groups.  It seems impossible to me that his voice is now stilled.

From time to time, when our offices neighbored one another, we’d chat about our careers, life choices, families, and, most often, our love of weather. He told me he pursued his dreams single mindedly  and that his inclination was to throw himself completely into his living plan, with no regrets. His world changed for the better when he and Rebecca met and became life partners.  Sadly, when he retired, it seemed that their dreams of exploring the world could be systematically achieved.   I know this philosophy spread into his view of his relationship with the cosmos.  But most of all we talked about weather…thunderstorms, how the atmosphere interacts with mountains producing local vagaries.  I suppose this is something weather “geeks” who are friends always share.

So I guess that one way to commemorate Dave’s moving away from the world is to quote the last few lines of “In Memoriam” by William Moreland.

Each time we see a little cloud
Or a rainbow soaring high
We’ll think of you and gently
Wipe a tear from our eye.


Memories and Tributes from Colleagues, Students, and Friends

From Emeritus Professor of Geology Raymond Pestrong:

Like so many of you, I have been shocked and saddened by the sudden tragic passing of Professor David Dempsey. One of my most significant contributions to our department, I think,  has been the minor role I played in his hiring. He has contributed in so many important ways to the successful functioning of our Department of Earth and Climate Sciences, including, but not limited to being its chair during its evolution from a Geology Department to its present status. I had the pleasure of co-teaching a seminar with David, and got to experience his role as scientist, lecturer and student mentor. It was a pleasure to watch him in the classroom. He loved teaching and it showed in his mastery of his subject and relationship with the students. I was the geologist and so had the distinct privilege of watching him guide us through an introduction to meteorology and its critical role in the evolution and functioning of the Earth. 

David was a master of his subject and guided us through the physics and chemistry of the world above the solid Earth, and its essential role in the Earth’s evolution. He constantly encouraged student involvement  and warmly engaged them in every aspect of the subject. He had a way of drawing them out and intellectually challenging them without it being a threat, and it led to wonderful classroom discussions and involvement.

Like so many of you, I have been shocked and saddened by the sudden tragic passing of Professor David Dempsey. One of my most significant contributions to our department, I think,  has been the minor role I played in his hiring. He has contributed in so many important ways to the successful functioning of our Department of Earth and Climate Sciences, including, but not limited to being its chair during its evolution from a Geology Department to its present status. I had the pleasure of co-teaching a seminar with David, and got to experience his role as scientist, lecturer and student mentor. It was a pleasure to watch him in the classroom. He loved teaching and it showed in his mastery of his subject and relationship with the students. I was the geologist and so had the distinct privilege of watching him guide us through an introduction to meteorology and its critical role in the evolution and functioning of the Earth. 

David was a master of his subject and guided us through the physics and chemistry of the world above the solid Earth, and its essential role in the Earth’s evolution. He constantly encouraged student involvement  and warmly engaged them in every aspect of the subject. He had a way of drawing them out and intellectually challenging them without it being a threat, and it led to wonderful classroom discussions and involvement.


From Professor of Geography Andrew Oliphant

I am so gutted to hear this and I am thinking of you all and all of the ECS faculty and students. I really enjoyed working with Dave, and had a lot of respect for his boundless energy for student success. I was thoroughly enjoying his stories from New Zealand and South America and was so impressed to see the same vigor with which he lead his professional life shift focus into adventurous retirement life. He was kind to me and made great efforts to connect on teaching in ECS and co-serving on thesis committees, despite me being in a different department. He was a great role model for me in many ways and I will miss him. I can only imagine the large gap he will leave for you and ECS, and my heart goes out to his family.

 

From Emeritus Professor of Geology Ray Sullivan, Former Chair, Department of Geosciences

It only seems like yesterday that John M. brought Dave around the department during his job interview for the position at SFSU. I was Chair at the time, and Dave left no doubt in our minds that we had found a unique and talented metrologist. My office was across the hall from the Meteorology lab and I would often listen to Dave’s classroom presentations. He was truly a dedicated teacher who introduced many new ideas and concepts to teaching at the University . AfterI retired, Dave continued to give freely of his time to help me stay computer literate and updated. I really appreciated his friendship. His father was a Professor at Chico State and Dave was raised in this small college town. My son taught for several years in the Geology Department and raised two children in Chico.. I must admit that I was not too thrilled with the town but Dave really had a very different perspective. He encouraged me to introduce my grandchildren to some of the activities that he enjoyed in his youth. He enjoyed swimming in the summer in the river dam pool in the City Park, riding a bike around town and hiking in the hills.  Dave remained active all his life and it is a tragedy that he was struck down so soon after retirement. My sincere condolence  to Rebecca and the family.

 

From Adjunct Professor of Geology Lisa White, Former Chair, Department of Geosciences; Director of Education and Outreach, Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley,

Such a tremendous loss . All of us who were Dave's colleagues knew how passionate he was about teacher training and educational effectiveness. Here Dave is in the early days of the SF ROCKS program guiding a teacher on the 'cloud in a bottle' activity. So many memories of time spent teaching and learning with Dave over my 22 years at SFSU.

 

From Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, Prof. Carmen Domingo

I am forwarding the very sad news of Dave Dempsey's unexpected passing. I am including past members of Science Council who served with Dave and developed a strong rapport with him over the years. You all know how devoted he was to the Department of Earth & Climate, our college, students, faculty and staff. He also helped form and direct the Center for Math and Science Education. He was passionate about science and science education. It is a tremendous loss for our community.
From Dr. Jennifer Summit, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs

 

What shocking and upsetting  news—I’m so sorry. Dave was such a thoughtful and deeply committed member of our SF State community, and I can only imagine how devastating this loss must be to his colleagues and former students in COSE and the Department.. We lost an exemplary colleague and a thoughtful man, and I’m glad to see him memorialized in this wonderful site.
From former Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, Prof. Robert Ramirez
I  am incredibly sad & shocked to hear of Dave's passing.  He was a tenacious advocate for CoSE students and for the department of Earth & Climate Sciences. When I was Associate Dean ... yes ... he would sometimes come to our morning Science Council meetings wearing biking shorts; he clearly loved biking!  
I greatly admired his insights, his pragmatism and his humor.

From former Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, Sheldon Axler, Professor of Mathematics

Dave was a special, wonderful person. I got to know him well when I was Dean of the College of Science & Engineering and he was a key faculty member in what was the Geosciences Department. Later that department’s name changed to Earth & Climate Sciences Department, and soon Dave became Chair of the renamed department. He was a terrific Chair, always an articulate and well-informed advocate for his department, always treating everyone fairly and generously, always maintaining high standards, always doing more than his share of needed to be done. Dave will be warmly remembered at San Francisco State University and greatly missed.

From David Bao Prof. of Mathematics and former Chair of the Department of Mathematics

I'm struck by how unpredictable life could be!  And how little say we have in it. No doubt that evening bike ride was among Dave's enjoyments, as I had seen him regularly in a bike-riding outfit.  Dave was a science colleague who occasionally expressed to me his appreciation of partial differential equations. 

 

From Adrienne Cool Prof. of Physics and Astronomy

I am so sorry to hear this terrible news. 

I had the fortune to get to know Dave years ago when he chaired a committee 
to write single-subject matter proposals in Geosciences, Biology, Chemistry, and
Physics, and helped us all successfully navigate the Sacramento bureaucracy.
His keen awareness of the need find concrete ways to support future teachers,
and not just check boxes, was one of the driving forces, as I recall, in the
creation of CSME.  Dave's door was always open when I later sought out his
counsel in various connections.  He was always generous with his time, thoughtful, 
and had a lovely sense of humor.  We shared a love of biking and backpacking 
and I enjoyed hearing stories that he would occasionally share about his many 
mountain adventures.

What a tragic loss.  My heart goes out to his family.

from Eric Hsu, Professor of Mathematics

Such sad news. Dave was a hard working colleague who was active for years in pushing the cause of STEM Education at SFSU. He was on the committee that formed CSME and then served with Ray Trautman as the first co-directors of the center. 

I’ll remember him biking all around campus in his helmet and biking gear, always with a friendly smile. 

from Maarten Golterman, Professor of Physics, former Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy

 I got to know Dave during my stint as department chair.   Of
course, I was looking to my colleague chairs to learn
from them, and Dave was among the few from whom
I learned a lot.   Mostly from his example, but also in
some lengthy conversations about the some of the
problems that assailed us as department chairs.
What I valued was his calm and measured approach 
to things, his insights, and, not least, that he did his
homework.   It is a sad feeling that he is no longer
among us, and I wish his family and friends all the 
best in coping with this loss.

 

from Lawrence Horvath Professor, Dept of Secondary Ed, Graduate College of Education

Thank you for sharing. This is such sad news. I have tremendous respect for Dave, and he was such an advocate for STEM education, and a wonderful colleague. He will be sorely missed. When we do get a chance, I also hope we can all set a time to celebrate his life.

from Jamie Chan Operations Lead, Center for Science and Mathematics Education

I am so sad to hear of Dave's passing. Dave was a founding member and core part of CSME leadership for quite a few years. He was always willing to help anyone and participated with great enthusiasm in our teacher support programs. He was dedicated to making excellent STEM educators when he served at CSME and continued to be a supporter of the center even after his retirement. I was fortunate to meet his family a few brief times and could also see he was a loving father and partner.  He will be missed. -

 

from Mike Vasey Lecturer in Geography

I join you all in mourning Dave's passing.  He was a wonderful guy, excellent scientist, and quick with a smile.  So sorry to hear this news.

from Students, Friends, and Other Colleagues

David Reynolds (former Meteorologist-in-charge, National Weather Service, San Francisco Bay Region Office)

Very very sad news. Dave was always very approachable and helpful to me and NWS. So sorry to hear this

Warren Blier (Science Operations Officer, National Weather Service, San Francisco Bay Region Office)
Just heard the incredibly sad news. I’ve known Dave since we were both grad students at the University of Washington, Dave working on his dissertation when I arrived in 1982. My recollection is that he was Cliff Mass’ first PhD. Quite the polymath, there are things I learned from him back then that I recall to the present day. At some random time he stopped by my desk and asked me if I knew the difference in proper usage between the verbs “compose” and “comprise.” I didn’t, but am reminded of him the countless times since I’ve heard them used incorrectly. Could easily fill pages with stories and fond memories from the past. What a loss! My deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Shane Mayor (Professor of Atmospheric Science, Chico State)

I'm shocked and so saddened by this terrible news.  Dave and I had exchanged e-mails for a few years and I only had the pleasure of meeting him once at his parents' home in Chico in 2017.  I so regret now that we didn't follow up in the years since.  It was clear from my visit that he was a super kind, thoughtful, and very intelligent person.  I didn't know him that well, but I certainly would have liked to have been his friend.

Piero Mazzini (Coastal Oceanography Lab, William & Mary)

Cassia Pianca (Coastal Oceanography Lab, William & Mary)
Thanks for letting us know John. We are heartbroken with this shocking news. He was an amazing person that we had the opportunity to have in our lives. RIP Dave.

Greg Byrd,(former colleague University Corporation for Atmospheric Reserach)
This is tragic news. So sorry. Dave was a well-respected and well-liked colleague. He will be greatly missed.

Chuck Doswell (formerly National Severe Storms Lab)

 What terrible news! I'm so sorry, John. My condolences to his family and his other good friends.

Malori Redman
, Lecturer in Meteorology (Former Student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

He was my professor for my first science class at SFSU in the fall of 2009 - introduction to meteorology. I was a psychology major initially, but after taking that course I received a letter from the department chair (at the time I believe was Oz) asking to join the department. I still have the email send by Dave dated January 10th 2010 — but I didn’t accept the invitation until April 2011. I was damn determined to be a psychologist! But this was also during the last financial crisis and major cuts to education put some serious pressure on the psychology department. After much consideration and discussion with Dave, I made the switch. The next few years were tough, but with the help of my fellow classmates, Dave, John and Andrew I made it through mostly unscathed! Dave was the toughest teacher I have ever had. He was so meticulous in his grading and it drove me absolutely bonkers. I have shed so many tears in anger and frustration because of his assignments — but in the end I know it made me a better student. Additionally, he was always available to help either via email or phone. For one of our programming assignments, he sat on the phone with me for over 6 hours trying to debug and get my code to run. That is some serious dedication. In addition, he was my academic advisor and other main advisor throughout my senior thesis project. He always had great feedback and helped in any way that he could to make my thesis the best it could be — even if he didn’t come out on the playa with us to Burning Man. That would have been a sight to see :) 

Some of the many hours spent in his office included him telling me about his career path and his worldly travels. This sparked the idea for me to do the same between undergrad and grad school. He also saw how hard I was working and how it was breaking me down. He advised to take a break and enjoy myself, and I did. I had kept him up to date with everything that I was up to — he made it clear that he enjoyed hearing about how his former students were doing. After two years of traveling, spending all my money, coming back and traveling again, I finally came back and went to University of Arizona to pursue my Masters. Upon graduation I moved back, and 3 weeks before the semester started I was given the opportunity to teach back at SFSU. Since Dave had taught and built the class I was going to teach, I reached out to him for any and all advise, resources and tips for how to be the best teacher I can be. He said in one of his emails, "I’ve always thought you had the potential to become a good classroom instructor, and now you have a chance to take another step in that direction.” I will cherish those words for the rest of my career. 

Overall, Dave was a very influential person to me. He was an excellent mentor and amazing educator. He was always there for his students, at any and all times of the day. I am extremely blessed to have had him touch my life in the ways that he has. I am going to miss him very, very much. May he Rest In Peace. My condolences extend to his wife, sons, and family. A great man was taken from them all too soon.

Bridget James, Lecturer in Geology

I am so sorry to hear this. Thanks for letting us know. One thing is for certain...he lived life to the fullest. I remember he always was finding a new adventure to partake in.....

Shirin Leclere , Lecturer in Geology

There are so many wonderful and important memories of Dave but one of my fondest was the moment I caught on camera: he and Petra were on their way to the Spring 2016 graduation ceremony and they were riding off in full regalia (and proper head gear of course).  I was always amazed at the amount and quality of work that Dave created and inspired in all of us but I also treasured the moments of sheer joy and fun he clearly relished.

Jan Null, Lecturer in Meteorology

Such a tragedy. I am so sorry and offer my condolences to all his friends and family.

Matt Smyj  (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

That's awful. Dave was a good, kind person and I was lucky to have had him as an instructor at SFSU.

Hanah Allen  (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

That is so sad! I was just recently thinking about the hours I spent with Dempsey trying to solve math problems. He had such a big heart!

Jacqueline Charles  (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

I'm in absolute shock. Dave was so good to me. He and you John were my favorite teachers of all time. You both had such a profound impact on my life.

Wylie J. D. Tidwell III (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

Lord no!!!! I will always credit Dave with helping me gain confidence and bettering my vocabulary.

Austin Cross (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
Oh my god, truly heartbreaking news. I nearly instantly broke into tears upon hearing. I definitely would not be where I am today if not for Dave, and I know he had a similar impact on so many. Incredible loss for the met community.

Henry Bartholomew (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
This is shocking. Hope you are holding up okay, John. Dave was one of the best instructors I've ever had and a great person. May he rest in peace.

David Ciccone (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
So bizarre that I was literally just recounting about his remarkable teaching style and brilliant mind to a friend yesterday. He was so generous with his time and he thoroughly believed that anyone could come to understand the mathematics of fluid dynamics if they only applied themselves and sat with him long enough at office hours. My heart aches. What a loss. My condolences.

Kari Truckenmiller Northeim (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
This is sad news. He was a wonderful teacher. He will be missed.

Serena Chew (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
I am saddened by this news. I will remember him as patient and soft spoken. He helped my greatly with programming. I will miss him.

Matt Gough (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
Today, like most days, I am writing code to describe geophysical dynamics. The foundation for these skills, from which I still draw upon, were largely developed in the classes that Dave taught. This is indeed sad and shocking news. My condolences to Dave's family, friends, and colleagues in the SFSU Geosciences department.

Elizabeth Polito (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
I remember that day 2004, and so many more from my time at SFSU... Dave was so patient with all of us, and I have fond memories of Dave going through dynamic equations on the board- I am so grateful that he shared his passion of meteorology with all of us.

Chris Stumpf (Former student, MS in Geosciences)
This is so sad. Dave was such a great professor and mentor. I wouldn't be where I am today with out the his and your guidance John. My condolences to you and his family. He will very much be missed.

April Lu (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
He was always smiling toward the camera, so positive. Dave will be deeply missed. In such way, he won’t be far away.

Mark Tamayo (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)
I am so sorry to hear about this. The challenging nature of Dave’s classes ultimately revealed a professor who deeply cared about students. I will always be thankful for lots of office hours with Dave and the personal growth I experienced as one of his students. I have a few of my old assignments and tests that always bring back wonderful memories and a sense of accomplishment. My thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

Agustin Diaz (Former student, BS in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences)

I have been growing my beard during the shelter in place, and lately while reading I have caught myself playing with my mustache. This brought back memories of Dave whenever I saw him in his office looking intently at his computer screen and playing with his mustache. He helped me tremendously the many times I had trouble with his dynamics or Fortran assignments, and especially those times late in the evening when I was attempting to finish my assignments in the lab. What student can say that his professor was available to help him at midnight? He will be missed.


 
Messages of sympathy and memories of Dave may be sent to dempseymemorial@sfsu.edu