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The campus community celebrated the life of Professor Robert E. Prasch III at Mead Chapel on March 15.

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Community Gathers to Remember Professor Robert Prasch

March 17, 2015

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Family, friends, and members of the College community gathered in Mead Chapel on March 15 to remember Professor of Economics Robert E. Prasch III as a man of deep intellect and wit, whose abiding love for his students and colleagues was legendary on campus. Prasch, 56, died of a brain aneurysm in late January.

Peter Matthews, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics and department chair, welcomed the gathering and reflected on Prasch’s “giant” presence on campus. “Like other laughing, lovable giants, he won’t so much be remembered as immortalized in the folklore of our community,” Matthews said.

As many speakers noted, one of Prasch’s most distinctive habits as a teacher was to hold office hours in locations around campus, but most visibly in a booth at the library’s Wilson Café. “Bob didn’t hold office hours the way mere mortals did,” Matthews joked. “Rather, he held court, often for hours at a time, never bored, never flagging; and honestly, never much concerned about whatever meeting he might be missing as a result.”

“Furthermore,” Matthews added, "students didn’t just come to ask the usual questions about lectures or readings or problem sets, but to listen to him talk and talk. And to engage him in an almost inexhaustible range of topics. Students loved Bob because he was knowledgable, passionate, and, above all, completely genuine. And he loved them back.”

The student a cappella group The Dissipated Eight performed during the memorial celebration.

President Ron Liebowitz said that Prasch had a gift for knowing his audience, the ultimate sign of an excellent teacher.  “Bob was a brilliant, warm, inquisitive, sensitive—indeed, highly empathetic— individual, who could engage a first-year student, the barista at Wilson Café, or a stranger in front of the Post Office in town on any and all topics just as he would engage Nobel Prize winners in their fields of expertise.”

Liebowitz also announced that a memorial plaque in Prasch’s memory will be mounted in Wilson Café near the booth where he famously held so many discussions with students.

One of the most poignant moments came from Prasch’s wife, Falguni “Tina” Sheth, who delivered an eloquent  reflection on her 27 years with Prasch. “I suppose if there are any lessons that can be taken from the way he lived, it would be not to sweat the small stuff, not to be goaded by bullies, to stand up to the powerful, to take deep pleasure in life, love, ideas, justice, and laughter.

"But don’t just laugh,” Sheth continued, "laugh loudly; don’t just drink beer, drink good beer. Eat well and don’t let the puritans coerce you into doing away with the joys of good wine and plenty of it. Remember, the point of life is not to abstain because others do without, but to ensure that everyone can eat, drink, dance, and laugh freely. May his passions for justice and his lessons of love light our path for generations to come.”

Prasch arrived at Middlebury in 2000 as a visiting assistant professor, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2003, and promoted to full professor in 2009. Before joining the faculty at Middlebury he taught at San Francisco State University, University of Maine at Orono (where he earned tenure), and Vassar College. Several of his colleagues from other institutions including Bucknell, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Rider University, and Vassar College offered remarks during the gathering. 

Caitlin Knowles Myers, associate professor of economics at Middlebury, recalled arriving at the College as a  “wet-behind-the-ears” assistant professor and meeting Prasch in Proctor Dining Hall. Prasch, who split his time between Middlebury and his home in Amherst, Massachusetts, ended up renting an apartment from Myers’ family. She said her short carpools to campus with Prasch taught her a great deal about macroeconomics, thanks to his unusual ability to make complex ideas accessible.

“He was an inspiring teacher,” said Myers. "He was an unlikely but wonderful and influential mentor for me. And he was an incredibly good friend. I also will emulate Bob—have begun to already—and continue to think about the importance of having a broad-ranging curious mind."

The celebration included musical performances by Dustin Lowman ’15, the student a cappella group The Dissipated Eight, and George Matthew, Jr., College carillonneur.

More information about Bob Prasch's life is here.

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