Last month I lost a good friend and mentor, Ray von Dran, dean of the Syracuse University school of Information Studies. This week I’m flying out to Syracuse for his memorial service. Thought I’d write a bit here.

I first met the Dean (I always called him “Dean”) as a student of his at Syracuse University in 1996, enrolled in an undergraduate class he taught. I forget the name of the class, but the coursework consisted mainly of reading and dissecting business case studies. It was one of my favorite classes, but more importantly, the Dean was one of my favorite instructors. Later he joked that I was the only student who felt that way…I think that was the last year he taught it.

There were a few reasons why I especially liked & wanted to know him. First, he reminded me a lot of my father. In later years I got to introduce him to my Dad, and they became friends, as I knew they would — after years of telling both of them that they remind me of the other.

But mostly, he was one of the only people I’d met in academia with whom I could really relate.

I’m not an academic. I was a terrible student in high school. I liked college and did well, but wasn’t exactly working on my thesis like so many of my Silicon Valley brethren. (weird saying that, having just moved out west 3 years ago…)

The Dean devoted his life to academics, but he seemed different than his peers. He had a real New York sensibility, and didn’t hold back what he thought. He was a bit of a goofball. He could simultaneously charm a crowd, while at the same time making totally inappropriate jokes. I liked that.

He also wore almost exclusively all black. Which was kinda cool, in a Johnny Cash kinda way.

We got to know each other more after I graduated and started freelance programming and running small Internet businesses, one of which would eventually become AdBrite. In fact, the Dean was instrumental in getting my first round of funding from Sequoia Capital, as my primary personal reference.

After starting AdBrite, I saw the Dean more regularly. He took me to dinner with his wife a few times in NYC, and I took him out whenever he was on the West coast. Sure we would talk about business and school, but mostly we talked about family, dating, and everything else two friends talk about.

…which was super cool to me, because the Dean was also a superstar not only at Syracuse University, but in academia in general — the school became ranked #1 under his leadership. Have you ever become friendly with someone you really respected, before meeting? You kinda think to yourself, “wow it’s cool that I’m actually friends with this person…” Giddy, I know. But that’s how it was.

The Dean later asked me to serve on the Syracuse University School of Information Studies’ Board of Visitors, which is a board of advisors that consists of people “in the real world,” who give the school direction from a non-academic point of view. I’m the youngest member — the chairman is 82 years old. I think the board has been meeting quarterly since 1870.

The last time I saw the dean was in March at a board meeting. He announced that he was retiring, and the board would start searching for a new dean. Over dinner that night, we talked about his upcoming 1-year trip around the world that he was about to take with his wife.

That was the last conversation we had.

He died suddenly, just before the trip.


12 Responses to “Dean”

  1. 1 walker September 4, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Great post.

  2. 2 rump September 4, 2007 at 8:20 am


    Sorry to hear of the loss. Sounds like you found a true friend and mentor. My dad is the same age as “Dean” and it makes you step back and look at the big picture. How long do we have with people?

    That was a great story, thanks for sharing. Keep him in your daily thoughts. He’ll be there to guide you, but you won’t know it.

  3. 3 Anonymous September 4, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    so sorry for the loss and appreciate the sincere and heartfelt post. anyone who is that successful surely has some jealous adversaries. even NASA astronauts can crack, so even “proper” academic opponents are not above scrutiny in such cases. 60 is VERY YOUNG by today’s standards (note your 82 y.o. peer on the board). has foul play been ruled out entirely? has sufficient investigation been made to prove foul play impossible? the only thing worse than losing such a gem would be to have someone get away with such a thing.

  4. 4 Scary Monster September 10, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Nice euolgy. Sounds like you lost a very dear friend.

    Too bad that he never got to take that trip. I guess we can all learn somthing from him.


  5. 5 Anne in SC September 11, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Pud…your kind and thoughtful words in this post should definitely be shared with his wife and loved ones. I know she probably knows of your admiration and love for her husband, but that post was truly a sincere and moving tribute to a man who had to have been love by all and will definitely be missed given your account of him. How could she not be truly comforted by this post?

    Your kind words here and his smiling picture are sure to make many more wish they had the privilege of knowing him.
    Tell his wife I said for you to send a copy to her so that you won’t have to feel odd about “tooting your own horn”.

    I am so sorry for your loss and for his family’s.

  6. 6 Anonymous September 14, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Excellent post. Death is jolting. I’ve been fortunate to not have anyone close to me die in quite a while, but with a lot of elderly relatives, I fear what is to start at anytime.

  7. 7 NFT September 30, 2007 at 4:53 am


    A mentor, friend, business helper and fatherly figure all rolled into one… my heart goes out to ya, but know this: his spirit stays with you. All Dean taught you gets carried on by you, with honor not just for Dean but even yourself, because that’s what men like Dean instill in minds like yours. Trust your instincts and do everything with honor.

    Beautifully written post honoring Dean, could feel your sorrow with my own heart, but you also made it clear you were just so thankful to have known the man – that’s the part of things that will make it easier to cope with the sadness. Just being so happy you got to know him in this life, because all he taught you changed you, made you a better person.

    I’m positive Dean must have been so proud of you and all you’ve achieved –

    :hug: my condolences.

  8. 8 Dave September 30, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Sorry for your loss.

  9. 9 DJNewStyle October 2, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    God speed.

  10. 10 Citizen j October 12, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    My sincere condolensces.

  11. 11 Anne in SC October 17, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Pud….where are you???

  12. 12 Liz / Beth November 2, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Hey P.,

    G. sent me the link to your page and said you’d written up something about dad.. Thanks for making me cry again ;} Seriously, though.. thank you. Dad really thought the world of you, and he was an excellent judge of people. I’m so glad that pure chance opened the way to you two becoming friends.

    Anne in SC, don’t worry, we’d never think P. was tooting his own horn – after all, he doesn’t need too ;}

    Thanks for being such a kind, thoughtful type of guy..

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