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June 23, 2011

Obituary: David E. Epperson

EppersonnewSchool of Social Work dean emeritus David E. Epperson, who led the school to national prominence during his 29-year tenure, died of apparent sudden cardiac arrest June 20, 2011. He was 76.

Epperson served as dean from 1972 until his retirement in 2001, making him the longest-serving dean at Pitt and the longest-serving dean of any American school of social work when he retired.

Under his leadership, the School of Social Work gained national attention: Its enrollment more than tripled and its ranking rose to the top 10 percent of graduate social work programs nationally.

Epperson provided leadership to the Center for Mental Health Services Research, an interdisciplinary initiative between social work and the Department of Psychiatry and one of only seven National Institute of Mental Health centers of its type in the United States.

He also developed the child welfare education for leadership program, which provides educational opportunities for public child welfare personnel.

In 2008, Pitt established the David E. Epperson Endowed Chair in the School of Social Work.

Epperson began his deanship when Pitt’s School of Social Work was a program of 200 students with few faculty members. He is credited with building a baccalaureate program, enlarging the school’s master’s program and developing a diversity program for students and faculty. When he retired, 22 percent of the School of Social Work’s students and 25 percent of its faculty were from underrepresented populations.

“Dave Epperson and I began working together as deans more than a quarter of a century ago,” said Chancellor Mark A Nordenberg. “He already was an accomplished academic leader at that time, so I naturally turned to him for guidance. He remained a special source of advice, encouragement and support through all the years that followed.

“Dave devoted most of his professional life to Pitt, where he was respectfully known as ‘the dean of deans,’” Nordenberg continued. “He was a wonderful person who will be sorely missed by all who knew him, but he has left an inspiring legacy of good works and a legion of devoted friends who will continue to honor his memory through their own commitments to the causes in which he believed.”

Provost emeritus James V. Maher said, “David Epperson was absolutely dedicated to advancing all the good that a school of social work can do to alleviate human suffering. He was a marvelous and good man who loved people and brought true and healing warmth into each room he entered.”

Larry E. Davis, who succeeded Epperson as dean of the School of Social Work, said, “Because of Dave’s efforts, our school has the best reputation in the country as a school that is responsive to the needs of its community. He was a real hero and truly a man who worked for the greater good of all of us. After 10 years as dean, I continued to rely on him regularly for counsel, which he was always happy to provide.”

Epperson also served in leadership capacities in local, national and international nonprofit organizations. Most recently, he served as vice chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh; on the board of trustees for the YMCA of the USA; on the board of directors of the YMCA of Pittsburgh, and as a member of PNC Bank’s urban advisory board.

In addition, Epperson served as a member of the Pittsburgh Foundation’s Copeland Fund advisory committee and its Lemington Home advisory board.

He was a life member of the NAACP, an emeritus director of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and an elder at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Epperson also had served as chair of the boards of NEED (Negro Education Emergency Drive), the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. He was a member of the board of directors for both the Council on Social Work Education and the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work.

He also served as a trustee of the National Urban League and the National Center for Social Policy and Practice. In addition, he had been a member of the Pennsylvania State Planning Board and the Commonwealth’s Judicial Reform Commission.

From 1954 to 1958, Epperson served in the Strategic Air Command of the U.S. Air Force.

A native of Donora, Pa., Epperson earned four degrees from Pitt — a bachelor’s degree in political science (1961); master’s degrees in social work (1964) and in political science and international affairs (1970), and a PhD in political science and public policy (1975).

He was awarded several honors over the course of his career, including the YMCA of Pittsburgh’s Lifelong Achievement Award, the Renaissance Publications Trailblazers Torch Lighter Award for Higher Education and the Urban League of Pittsburgh’s Outstanding Members’ Award, all in 1998; the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh’s Volunteer Award in 1996, and the Vectors Pittsburgh Man of the Year in Education award in 1982.

Epperson is survived by his wife, Cecelia Trower Epperson; two daughters, Sharon Emily Epperson and Lia Beth Epperson, and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be 4-9 p.m. June 24 in East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Ave., where a funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. June 25.

Contributions may be made to the David E. and Cecelia T. Epperson Scholarship Fund; contributions should be sent to the Office of Institutional Advancement, 128 N. Craig St., Pittsburgh 15260.

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