Magazine Feature / People

Perdew radiated thoughtfulness

Philip Perdew’s compassion and ability to connect with others made a teaching career a perfect fit.

“If he radiated anything, it was thoughtfulness,” says former colleague and friend Bernard Spilka, a DU psychology professor emeritus.

Perdew, who was a professor of education at DU for 28 years, died Sept. 19, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

“I met Phil a couple of days after I got there [to DU],” Spilka recalls. “I immediately thought, ‘This is a guy I can talk to.’”

And talk they did. Spilka says the two remained close throughout their shared time at DU and beyond.

It was Perdew’s easygoing nature and approachability that made him a great teacher, Spilka says. “He was not the kind of guy that came down hard on anyone.”

“He was very devoted,” adds his daughter, Phyllis Ward of Denver. She recalls being introduced to some of DU’s international students when her father brought them home to dinner. “He was always interested in other cultures and backgrounds.”

After retirement from DU in 1978, Perdew visited a handful of those students while traveling around the world with his wife, Ruth, Ward says.

Perdew was born on Sept. 20, 1915, in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He received a bachelor’s degree in education from UCLA, where he later received a master’s and doctorate. He taught in Los Angeles schools from 1938–47, during which he worked with physically disabled and bedridden students.

He married Ruth Sevier on April 2, 1939, after the two met at UCLA.

Perdew started at DU in 1950, teaching classes in both the history and philosophy of education and spending much of his time reading his students’ dissertations as they worked for master’s or doctoral degrees. Because he thought that the books he was teaching with lacked relevance, he wrote The Secondary School in Action (Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 1959).

He was a member of various educational associations including the Association of Teacher Educators, History of Education Society, Colorado Education Association and Phi Delta Kappa.

Perdew took advantage of art classes offered at DU and began a painting hobby when he was 55. Later, he developed a “fascination” with gemstones — which he would cut, polish and mount on handmade silver settings to create jewelry, most of which he gave as gifts to his wife and children.

“He would say, ‘With teaching you don’t see your results — at least not right away. But with painting, the results are immediate.’ It was a good balance for him,” Ward says.

In addition to his wife and daughter Phyllis, he is survived by daughter Jeananne Fields, son John Perdew, 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.


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