In memoriam of David Prosperi

David Prosperi, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, died a few weeks ago. I’m usually faster about putting up remembrances, but with this one, I was hoping that if I didn’t write about his leaving us, he’d still be there at ACSP in Philadelphia for me to sneak outside with when he decided he had to have a smoke. We enjoyed making fun of terrible papers–gently, of course. He had edges, but he wasn’t mean.

I met David when I was a fresh-out assistant professor at Virginia Tech, and he was part of an accreditation team. I was worried, rightly it turns out, about accreditation, but nobody else seemed to be. (I would say I was perceptive, but actually, I just worry about everything so that of course I’m going to be right now and then). Thus my attempts at getting some coaching from the more experienced faculty went unanswered–honest and decent of them, really. I sat down in my interview with the accreditation team, a nice, very accomplished gentleman from an eastern university, a wonderful practitioner, and David Prosperi. I figured…he’s from Florida Atlantic, and he’s an old guy. He’ll be easy to handle. He started by asking me a thorny, unpleasant question. No preliminaries. I deflected it. He said, “Nice answer, but that’s not what I asked you.” I looked at him, and we locked eyes, and there was a lot said in that look. A gun recognizes another gun, as they say, and with that look, he communicated everything he needed to, along the lines of “Look, kid, I’m not an idiot. Try again.” The rest of that conversation was a chess match between the two of us, and both of us liked each other intuitively afterwards. Whenever we met, we’d chat and enjoy the camaraderie of two people who do not fit in well within the profession: edgy doubters with our own minds, him responding kindly to my inexperience and roughness.

Farewell, friend. I was reading this bit from Donne the other day and it reminded me of David’s passing.

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

David Prosperi’s obituary from Elsevier discussing his pivotal role in founding the journal, Computers, Environment, and Urban Systems.