Campus & Community

Former University College dean Peter Warren dies at 77

Peter Warren — who served the University of Denver as a visionary dean of University College, as vice provost for global development and as an associate professor of mathematics — died on Oct. 15 at his home in Lower Downtown Denver. He was 77.

Born in 1938 in New York, Warren came to DU after studying at the Institute Henri Poincare in Paris, after a stint with IBM in Stockholm and after earning his PhD in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1971. He left DU briefly, between 1981–83, to serve as director of research and policy planning for the Colorado Energy Research Institute.

His tenure as dean of University College, which spanned more than a decade and concluded in 2001, heralded a transformation in focus for the college specializing in professional and continuing studies.

“Peter was really brilliant. He was a theoretical mathematician by training, and he could think outside the box,” says Jim Griesemer, currently a University of Denver trustee, dean emeritus of the Daniels College of Business and director of the University’s Strategic Issues Program. Griesemer served as the University’s chief financial officer when Warren first headed University College, and he remembers Warren applying his gift for innovation and his creativity to the development of programs for University College.

“He would say to me that he would look for interstices, the little niches between traditional programs,” Griesemer recalls. From these interstices, he would develop career-enhancing course and program opportunities that would go beyond the traditional life-enrichment courses often offered in “adult education” programs.

“For example,” Griesemer says, “Peter put in place programs for working professionals who either wanted to change careers or, more likely, who wanted to advance their careers.” Today, he adds, that philosophy characterizes continuing education programs across the country, but at the time, it was regarded as cutting-edge.

“The University owes Peter an enormous debt of gratitude for shaping University College,” Griesemer says.

Outside academia, Warren was known for wide-ranging interests that encompassed everything from motorcycles and glider aircraft to the arts and wildlife. As a teenager living in California, he built his own motorcycle, the first of many bikes that he would use to explore canyon roads across the West. Through photography and film, he captured his love of nature and people, and in his later years, he studied ceramics.

Throughout his adult life, Warren traveled extensively and spoke several languages. In his retirement, he built on his passion for education and travel by founding the International Education Corps, a nonprofit that helped place retired educators as consultants with universities in developing countries. He was instrumental in helping establish the Namibia University of Science and Technology (currently Polytechnic of Namibia).

Closer to home, Warren was the co-founder of the Denver International Film Festival, where he served as the first chair of the board from 1978–81. He also served on the boards of the David Taylor Dance Company, Urban Design Forum, the Cheetah Foundation and Elephant Energy.

In February 2015, Warren was diagnosed in with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare and untreatable neurological disorder.

Warren is survived by his wife, Katharine Smith-Warren; his stepson Tyler Chafee and daughter-in-law Sally Richards Chafee; and three grandchildren, Anna, Nora and Will Chafee. Other family members include his sister, Poppy Warren of Oregon, and a cousin, Constancia Warren of New York.

A memorial event is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, in the Hamilton Recital Hall at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on the DU campus. The family asks that memorial donations go to Cure PSP to help find cures for brain diseases like MSA.


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