By Carl Nathe
Special to KyForward
Integrity…loyalty…dedication…an incredible work ethic…tireless…passionate about the Gatton College of Business and Economics and the University of Kentucky. These common themes emerge when colleagues, business associates, and friends remember the man who served as dean of the Gatton College for 22 years, from 1981-2003, Richard W. “Dick” Furst.
Furst passed away in May following a long and courageous battle with cancer. Friends and family will hold a memorial celebration of his life on June 29.
“What always impressed me most was Dean Furst’s ability to hear adverse news, take it in stride, and keep moving on,” said Judy Haywood, who served as budget officer for the first 20 years of Furst’s tenure as dean before her retirement in 2001. “He never held a pity party. He just pulled up his socks and went forward.”
Judy Haywood’s husband, Charles, a retired economist who served as dean of the college from 1965-75 and for many years after that as a distinguished researcher and professor said, “Dick Furst impressed me right from the ‘get go’…He was what I would call an ‘academic entrepreneur.’
“He also created the environment and provided the support to enable the college to play a much more important role in working with various state agencies for the betterment of the Commonwealth.”
Longtime Lexington entrepreneur and UK benefactor Warren Rosenthal said, “Dick Furst was one of the brightest people I have known. He used his intelligence and concentrated efforts to elevate the Gatton College to a position of national respect.”
Rosenthal added that upon Furst’s arrival from the University of South Carolina in 1981 to assume the deanship, he reached out to people in the business community and established the college’s Business Partnership Foundation, which over the years has built a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the school and businesses in Central Kentucky and around the state, as well as across the nation and beyond.
“Every person Dean Furst touched became a devotee of the college,” Rosenthal said.
Furst sought and received great corporate and indivdual support in a campaign which resulted in a major expansion and enhancement of facilities for the business school in the early 1990′s, while also attracting numerous gifts to establish a large number of endowed chairs and professorships in the college, helping UK attract and retain outstanding faculty members.
In the mid-1990′s, college alumnus C.M. “Bill” Gatton made the largest single monetary gift in UK history and the school was named in his honor. “Dick Furst was an excellent administrator and extremely honorable,” Gatton said. “He delivered on his promises.”
The first endowed faculty member Furst recruited to UK back in 1984 was Donald Mullineaux, who left the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to become the duPont Endowed Chair in Banking and Financial Services. “Dick wanted the college to improve in every aspect,” Mullineaux said. “He was willing to invest in recruiting endowed chairs in all areas of the college and encouraged them to be engaged in outreach activities, as well as research.
“He was a great listener and put an emphasis on student satisfaction at all levels — undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs. And, in terms of how he treated people, Dick always took the high road.”
On a more personal level, Mullineaux said, Furst was very dedicated to his wife, Jan, and their family. “He was very proud of their two daughters, Pam and Stacie, and took great joy in spending time with their grandchildren.”
Many of his friends were aware of the former dean’s competitive nature in athletics; he excelled on the tennis court and golf course. However, Mullineaux said it would surprise some to know that Furst was a huge fan of opera. “He fell in love with it at his first exposure,” said Mullineaux. “Dick was a big supporter of the UK Opera Theatre and the Lexington opera scene, as he loved attending performances of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.”
Furst convinced Mike Tearney to join UK’s business school faculty in 1983 as chair of the accounting department. Tearney, who would become the KPMG Endowed Professor of Accountancy, also served for more than a decade as associate dean, making numerous overseas trips with Furst to help expand the college’s global outreach.
Now emeritus, Tearney recalled an incident which took place around 1990 where Furst and the group he was guiding were turned away at the border of a then Soviet Union-controlled Eastern European nation. “Very shortly thereafter, a formal apology was issued to Dean Furst by the country’s liaison officer to the U.S.,” said Tearney. “Then, when Soviet influence dissolved and nations regained their sovereignty, Dick was among a select number of business school deans who were invited to The White House by then President George H.W. Bush to outline proposals for delivering business education in this newly-capitalistic region of the world.”
Furst initiated the Gatton College Alumni Hall of Fame in 1994 to honor graduates of the college who not only have earned great success in their chosen careers but also have demonstrated exemplary involvement in giving back to their communities. Over the past 18 years, a total of 75 men and women have been honored.
“In my book, Dick Furst is a ‘hall of famer’ all the way,” said Luther Deaton, chairman, president and CEO of Central Bank. “One of the best decisions I ever made was to invite him to become a member of our company’s board of directors. He was unbelievably valuable. Dick would thoughtfully size up a situation and provide advice and guidance which was candid and concise. It may not be what you wanted to hear at the time but it would always turn out to be right on target. His keen insight will be extremely difficult to replace.”
Other prominent business people echoed Deaton’s sentiments. Norwood “Buddy” Cowgill, Jr., a Lexington-based real estate investor and entrepreneur who has developed companies such as StudioPlus Hotels and OfficeSuites Plus, said, “Dick Furst was an instrumental member of our company’s board who provided invaluable advice and direction to us when we were looking to do our first IPO (initial public offering). He always wanted UK to play a bigger role in helping companies to get started and grow.”
Alan Bloomfield of Lexington, who built Galls into a worldwide leader in the sales and distribution of public safety equipment and apparel, also recruited Furst to serve on his company’s board. “He was a great guide,” said Bloomfield. “At meetings, he would sit back and take it all in with the thoughtful look of a professor. When it was his turn to speak, he would sum things up in a very direct fashion. 99 times out of 100, his analysis of a situation proved to be spot on.”
Former Kentucky Commerce Secretary and Lexington businessman Jim Host, a national innovator and leader in collegiate sports marketing, asked Furst to be on the board of directors of Host Communications. “More than anyone else who ever served on our board, Dick contributed to the success of our company,” said Host. “And he always did so in a quiet, understated manner. Besides that, he was one of the most loyal friends I ever had. I really miss him.”
Following his formal retirement as dean in 2003, Dick Furst never stopped working. An emeriti faculty member, he spent countless hours at his office in the Mathews Building, next door to the Gatton College on UK’s campus.
Dean Harvey serves as director of UK’s Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship and said Furst was a mentor to him and a friend.
“He was the inspiration behind many of the commercialization and economic development initiatives at UK over the last decade,” Harvey said. “Dick was a founder of the Bluegrass Angels and Bluegrass Angel Venture Funds. He was a driving force behind the formation of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership (LFUCG, Commerce Lexington, and UK). He was always willing to listen, to jump in and help, and was passionate about creating jobs by getting different entities to work together.”
David W. Blackwell left his position as associate dean of the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University to join the UK family as the new dean of the Gatton College on March 1 of this year.
“Immediately after I was offered and accepted the job last fall, Dick Furst reached out to me offering to help in any way he could,” Blackwell said. “And, he did just that. Over the months, he met with me and introduced me to many people who are so important to our college. He truly was, and remains, an inspiration. Even though he was severely weakened by cancer, he stayed extremely positive and willing to help. Just a few short weeks before Dick died, he graciously attended a meeting of the Gatton Dean’s Advisory Council which I was hosting. He stood up and made a compelling plea for all in attendance to continue their strong support of the school, and to endorse our vision for the expansion and modernization of the college’s facilities. I will never forget that moment.”
Recalling Furst’s deep devotion to the Gatton College and to the University of Kentucky, Warren Rosenthal commented, “His efforts were never about himself. Dick always was focused on making the college and the university better.”
Luther Deaton added that the former dean’s last communication to him, a letter he received just days before Furst’s passing, contained an impassioned plea that Deaton, his associates, and the greater business community remain steadfast in their financial support and hard work on behalf of the school. “He demonstrated his love of, and care for UK right up until his death,” said Deaton.
On June 29, family and friends of Dick Furst will have a private gathering at Lexington Country Club to celebrate his life and honor his memory.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the Richard W. & Janis H. Furst Scholarship Fund, c/o UK Office of Development, Sturgill Development Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0015.
Carl Nathe is a writer for UK Public Relations and Marketing who worked with Dean Furst for many years.