Professor of Psychology Emeritus Dave Cole M’48 brought personality to the classroom and beyond
At the end of each semester, during finals week at Occidental, Professor of Psychology David Cole M’48 and his wife, Dorothea, would open their Eagle Rock home to psych majors for a “come as you are” meal. “The occasional student would show up in pajamas and there was always something wonderful to eat,” says Jean Wu ’66 of Sacramento, who served as Cole’s exam reader her senior year.
Dorothea often made her famous Pork-Almond Casserole, sharing the recipe (below) with Dave’s students—Chris Sorensen Byrd ’66, for one, has prepared the dish many times. And up until his passing, Dave—who died February 9 in Sonoma, at age 99—kept in touch with some of his former students through his annual Christmas letter. “No matter what was going on in the world, he could find something positive to say,” recalls Wu, who spent more than 40 years in varied administrative roles for the state of California.
A Glendale native, Cole earned his undergraduate degree at UCLA, his master’s at Oxy, and his Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate School. He joined the Oxy faculty as a graduate assistant in psychology in 1947 and worked his way through the academic ranks to full professor. He was awarded the College’s Faculty Achievement Award in 1968 and the Donald R. Loftsgordon Memorial Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1973. A longtime chair of the Psychology Department, he retired from teaching in 1984.
As personality tests came into vogue in the 1950s, Cole and some of his professional peers devised what he called “Two Magic Questions” in response to the psychotherapy that emerged around that time. Occasionally, he would ask these questions in the classroom: “If you were to become an animal, what kind would you be, and why?” “Even if a student tried to be funny,” Cole told the Redondo Beach Daily Breeze in 1962, “his answer might give insight into his personality.”
In retirement, Cole found great satisfaction volunteering for the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. He also took up race walking and in his 80s achieved elite status in his age group. Dave and Dorothea often dressed up in costume for races close to home, with Dave pushing her wheelchair along the courses.
For the 3-kilometer Human Race in Santa Rosa in 2004, Dave transformed himself into the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, with Dorothea going along for the ride dressed at Dorothy—ruby slippers and all. “I don’t think we’re very typical 81-year-olds,” Cole told this magazine in a Summer 2004 story in which he dressed as a cow. “Maybe we like humor because we feel young.”
Dave was preceded in death by Dorothea after 62 years of marriage and is survived by daughters Linda, Shirley, and Joyce and their families. In 2012, rather than throw a party for Cole’s 90th birthday, his daughters invited some of his former students to submit letters instead. “One alum wrote that Dave defined what it meant to be a psychologist,” Wu says, “and he became a psychologist.”