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Beloved dean played key role in the life of Steve Jobs.

John Almon Dudman ’42

A picture of Jack Dudman

John Almon Dudman ’42, July 23, 2008, in Portland, after a brief illness.

Jack played many roles at Reed. Student leader, proud graduate, inspiring teacher, trusted confidante. But he is probably best remembered as the beloved dean of students who helped thousands of students through the ups and downs of college life—including a penniless dropout named Steve Jobs.

John Almon Dudman was born in Iowa in 1920 and majored in mathematics at Reed, where he made a deep impression on Prof. Robert Rosenbaum [math 1939–53]. “Jack was the best of the group,” Rosenbaum wrote later. “Not just in seriousness and diligence, although he clearly held his own in these qualities—but in the imagination that he brought to his study, and in the evident pleasure that he took from beginning to see the roles that mathematics plays in human culture.”

He was elected student body president and became an active student advocate. During that time, two male students were involved in a homosexual relationship which somehow became public; college administrators were determined to put an end to it. Jack argued that the students’ relationship was a private matter and that the college had no business meddling in their affairs. Sadly, his arguments fell on deaf ears and the students were expelled.

After graduation, Jack served in the U.S. Navy as a meteorological officer. When WWII ended, he worked for a year as a statistician at the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, then spent three years doing research at the Bureau of Applied Social Research. He also taught math and biostatistics at Dartmouth. In 1953, he returned to join the mathematics department at Reed, focusing on probability and statistics. In 1958, he married Barbara Reid ’60, who herself taught math for many years.

Jack is best remembered as dean of students at Reed, a position he held from 1963 to 1983, and to which he devoted two-thirds of his time. His brother Richard, who provided the details for this memorial, notes: “During the tumultuous ’60s, Jack scrupulously maintained relations among the students, the college administration, and the Portland police. Professor Joe Roberts [mathematics 1952–], with whom he served in the mathematics department, said that Jack did a superb job as dean, was always available, and always interested in the students' point of view, but didn't always see eye-to-eye with the administration. Through it all, Jack never lost his wry sense of humor.”

In an oral history interview with Blake Nebel ’92 in 1991, Jack said that he became dean  at the beginning of a period "in which things got very hectic" in the are of student life. "It was a period in which a great cultural change occurred—changes of attitudes about sexual behavior, about drug use, about the appropriate role of a college, with regard to control of or management of student life and student choices. And so it was a very exciting period to be involved.” He saw his role and that of other administrators as determinedly non-manipulative and non-controlling. "We were reactive rather than proactive and that's the way I still think it ought to be.”

He touched the lives of generations of students—including Steve Jobs, who later described him as “one of the heroes of my life.”

“Often times, when I was at the end of my rope, Jack would go for a walk with me and I would discover a $20 bill in my tattered coat pocket after that walk, with no mention of it from Jack before, during, or after,” Jobs later said. “I learned more about generosity from Jack Dudman and the people here at this school than I learned anywhere else in my life.”

In addition to his work for Reed, Jack did professional consulting with the Oregon State Fish Commission, the University of Oregon Medical School, University of Oregon Dental School, the American Dental Association, and the United States Air Force Mental Test Project at Columbia University. Numerous scientific journals have published his papers on a variety of mathematical applications.

The Trees of Reed website notes that after Jack retired, the student body planted an Alaska cedar near Old Dorm Block in his honor. The students chose a "weeping" variety because they wanted him to remember how sad they were to see him go.

Jack was portrayed by the actor James Woods in the biopic Jobs (2013), based on the life of Steve Jobs.

Survivors include Barbara; son, Joseph; and his brother, Richard.

Read more stories and recollections of Jack in the Dudman Files.

Appeared in Reed magazine: November 2008

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