Duren celebrates centenary
Photos by Dan Addison
|On Nov. 10, former Arts & Sciences Dean William L. Duren Jr. blows out the candles on his birthday cake after a talk at the mathematics department about his career. Duren, who turned 100 that day, shared some time on his birthday with current Arts & Sciences Dean Edward L. Ayers (at right, below).
By Matt Kelly
Former Arts & Sciences Dean William L. Duren Jr. credits good genes, green vegetables, regular exercise and a daily glass of wine for reaching the century mark.
Duren, who turned 100 on Nov. 10, was feted by the Mathematics Department on his birthday and by the Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehab and Wellness Center, where he exercises three times a week, the day before.
Still active and living by himself, Duren gave about 60 friends and colleagues at the math department a brief outline of his career, as a math professor at Tulane University, as an “operations analyst” for the Army Air Force during World War II and as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the first University Professor, a position created to enable research and teaching across school boundaries.
During his working life, he had an office next to Albert Einstein at Princeton, was friends with Col. Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay when it dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, and worked for racial integration of higher education.
“I’m happy to have lived as long as I have,” Duren said at his Nov. 10 talk, though he does have a few regrets. “I didn’t find out who I was until later in life.”
He had wanted to be a writer, but became a mathematician instead. Later he realized his true calling was as a generalist, pulling from many disciplines, which led him into administration, where he applied his “mathematical way of thinking” to management.
“Few real-world problems come neatly packaged in a single academic discipline,” he said.
Current Arts & Sciences Dean Edward L. Ayers, who attended Duren’s Thursday fete, said Duren, who came to U.Va. in 1955, made a big impact on the University. Ayers praised his predecessor for working to integrate the College, establishing the Echols Scholars program, introducing the first computer to the University, developing departmental libraries and adding large lecture halls to new buildings.
Ayers, who occupies the same New Cabell Hall office Duren used, said the furniture and plumbing were still the same.
Duren received a round of applause when he blew out the three candles on his birthday cake, one for each digit in 100, and then started the cake-cutting by making a diagonal slash on one corner of the cake.
Retired history professor Paul M. Gaston said Duren was dean when he came to the University in 1957. Duren, he said, persuaded him to stay at U.Va. when other schools were trying to lure him away.
“He has a sense of mission and a sense of humor,” Gaston said. “He relates to people as people and that is refreshing.”
After serving in World War II, Duren returned to teach math at Tulane. After his efforts to promote admissions of blacks there failed, Duren left the school in 1955 for U.Va.
During his time as U.Va. dean, the College admitted its first black student, Amos Leroy Willis, a mid-year transfer from the engineering school. He also promoted admitting women, but that did not happen until after he left the dean’s post.
Duren is not surprised by his longevity.
“I had an uncle and an aunt who lived to be over 100 and a lot of relatives over 90,” he said, adding that he also “eats twice as many green vegetables as most people.”
In addition to eating his greens and exercising three times a week, Duren also writes regularly on politics and education.