By Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences
PULLMAN, Wash. – Fond remembrances of Erich J. Lear posted by several of his former students on the School of Music’s Facebook page echo the sentiments of many at Washington State University who knew him as a colleague, mentor and friend.
“Kind,” “caring,” “intelligent” and “wise” are words frequently used to describe Lear, who was a longtime professor and director of the school and served as dean of the former College of Liberal Arts 2004-08.
Lear died Feb. 18 after an extended battle with cancer, but his legacy lives on in the many people and projects he championed at WSU. A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29, in Bryan Hall on the WSU Pullman campus, with a reception following in Kimbrough Music Building, room K115.
Shepherded Kimbrough renovation
“He was a phenomenal individual,” said Greg Yasinitsky, Regents professor and director of the music school. “He was brilliant, with a mind like a steel trap, yet very easygoing, very kind. He was a great musician and extremely devoted to the students – a really impressive guy.
“In the school, he’ll be remembered for providing strong and excellent leadership,” Yasinitsky said.
During Lear’s tenure as school director, he developed music degree options with business, theater, electrical engineering and computer science. Yasinitsky also credits Lear with almost single-handedly producing the music school’s ultra-important self-study for national reaccreditation in 2011.
But Lear’s “crowning achievement,” Yasinitsky said, was securing funds and institutional support for the multi-million-dollar renovation of the Kimbrough Music Building. The project added two stories to the building, including new classrooms, a music library, a piano and electronic music laboratory and a digital recording studio.
“He left such great gifts to the school and WSU,” the director said.
Creative problem solver
From January 2003 through summer 2004, Lear directed the WSU general studies program. He was directly involved in rejuvenation of online programs in the arts and humanities, especially the criminal justice bachelor’s degree. He helped secure increased flexibility for humanities and social sciences majors to designate areas of concentration.
Lear was appointed interim dean of liberal arts in 2004, succeeding Barbara Couture. The following year he became dean.
He recruited Paul Whitney, then-chair of psychology, to be his associate dean for research. Whitney remembers Lear as “a very creative problem solver” and “passionate about the good you could do from an administrative role.
“He saw the role of dean as something you did for the faculty, staff and students. He had a genuine spirit of service,” Whitney said.
From the dean’s office, Lear provided advocacy and leadership resulting in a 400 percent increase in external grant funding and more than $8 million in private gifts to the college.
Vision and voice
“He was a unique combination of someone who could see the big picture but also the details. I think that’s what made him such a wonderful administrator,” said Julie Wieck, professor of voice and a longtime close friend of Lear and his wife, Jane.
“He loved to teach, and that shows in so many students’ comments about his caring and kindness,” Wieck said. “He once told me, ‘I like helping people to achieve,’ and I saw that in the way he worked with students and the faculty.”
Wieck considered Lear her mentor at WSU and dedicated a recital in honor of his retirement from the university in 2011: “I called it ‘Words of Wisdom’ because he was that wise voice…he was intelligent and he was kind, and he wanted to help people reach their potential.”
She noted that, at the top of his latest résumé, dated December 2013, Lear stated his “Career (and continuing) Approach: To help people reach their goals.”
“That pretty much sums up who Erich was to me and many others,” Wieck said.
‘Liberal arts keep us human’
Lear made numerous, lasting contributions across the university. He served on the University Scholarship Coordinating Committee, as co-chair of the College of Education Professional Education Advisory Board, as chair and vice chair of the Research and Arts Committee, and as an active member of other groups that worked to resolve various issues in academic affairs.
In a 2006 interview, Lear spoke to the importance of intercollegiate collaboration and cross-disciplinary research: “In a world where our dependence on science and technology deepens each day, it is the liberal arts that keep us human.”
A violinist and violist, he was a member of the Washington-Idaho Symphony and performed as a soloist, chamber musician and concertmaster with numerous orchestras and ensembles. He taught violin and viola and upper-division music history and music theory.
Her received his bachelor of music, master of arts and doctor of musical arts degrees from the University of Iowa. His academic career before coming to WSU included faculty and administrative positions at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg), Morningside College (Sioux City, Iowa), Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
Lear was the Region 2 chair and team chair for music accreditation reviews for the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). He served as administrative curriculum officer on the board of the Washington Music Educators Association. He published in the American String Teacher journal and served as president of the Washington state ASTA chapter.
Memorials for music education
His family requests memorial gifts be made to the Washington Music Educators Association’s Young Musicians Excelling Program, which helps defray costs for music students to attend the WMEA All-State Music Conference and participate in All-State ensembles. More information, an online donation form and mailing address can be found at http://wmea.org.