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Dean Eyre: 'The voice of reason and calm in any situation'

Dean A. Eyre III, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, is the program assistant for the research advising team in Undergraduate Advising and Research. The Stanford alumnus – Class of 1980 – has worked on The Farm for nearly three decades.

L.A. Cicero Dean Eyre portrait

Said one colleague about Dean Eyre: 'Students seek him out, knowing that they will get his full attention and will be well-served.'

BY KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

First, a short lesson in pronouncing the name "Eyre."

As Dean A. Eyre III helpfully tells Safeway clerks who puzzle over what to say as they stare at the name on his receipts, "It's AIR, like the air we breathe."

Another approach he uses is to offer a short list of Eyres, real and fictional.

For baseball fans: It's "Eyre" as in pitcher Scott Eyre, former relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, now retired.

For the romantic set: It's "Eyre" as in Jane Eyre, heroine of the 1847 novel – and new Hollywood movie – by English author Charlotte Brontë.

For independent movie buffs: It's "Eyre" as in Chris Eyre – director of Smoke Signals, Skinwalkers and A Thief of Time.

Since he's been working for Stanford for 27 years, there are a lot of people on campus who have no problem pronouncing Eyre's name. 

Eyre, the program assistant for the research advising team in the office of Undergraduate Advising and Research, is one of three people chosen to receive the 2011 Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

The other two winners are Manuel Bautista, a plumber who was recently promoted to a lead position in Student Housing, and Peche Turner, the department manager of the Computer Science Department.

They will be honored on Tuesday, May 17, in a ceremony that will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the central courtyard of Lagunita Court (on Santa Teresa Street, across from Roble Field). The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking permit for the 2011-12 academic year.

Several colleagues who nominated Eyre for the Amy J. Blue Award hailed his behind-the-scenes role at the Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Public Service, a biannual event featuring poster presentations by more than 100 students.

In the weeks leading up to the events, which are held during Reunion Homecoming Weekend and Admit Weekend, Dean can be found "quietly (yet furiously) working late into the night" to make sure all the pieces are in place, Koren L. Bakkegard, an associate dean in Undergraduate Advising and Research, wrote in a letter nominating Eyre.

"We often have more requests for participation than there is room to accommodate, yet Dean dedicates himself to ensuring that the maximum number of students have the opportunity to present their work to their peers, alumni and prospective students," she wrote.

"There are posters to print on the plotter, physical projects to transport to and fro, and nerves to calm as students encounter bumps on the road to making their presentations a reality. SURPS is a sight to behold, and I'm not sure that it's widely known that Dean is SURPS. But he is."

Scuba diving at Stanford

Eyre got his first look at The Farm as a 12-year-old enrolled in sports camp, where he wrestled in the gymnasium in the Ford Center, played basketball in Maples Pavilion, took scuba diving lessons in Encina Pool and played football and mushball – like softball, but played with a large soft ball that no one can hit very far.

It was the summer of 1970 and the kid from Hawaii – the son of an alumnus – was thrilled to catch a glimpse of Stanford football legends Jim Plunkett (quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner) and Randy "The Rabbit" Vataha (wide receiver)  practicing their famed passes.

Eleven years later, Eyre marched into Frost Amphitheater with the rest of his classmates for graduation. His father, Dean A. Eyre Jr., '51, a former polo player who lived in the Red Barn for two years to take care of his horse, flew in from Hawaii with his wife, Bonnie, for commencement.

During a recent interview at the Coupa Café, Eyre fingered the vintage tie clip – a block "S" at its center – holding his green tie in place. It once belonged to his father, who died in February.

"The last time we talked was after Stanford won the Orange Bowl in early January," said Eyre, making that victory a bittersweet one in retrospect. "He was so excited about how much the team had accomplished." His father was active in the Hawai'i Stanford Chapter as well as the Buck/Cardinal Club, which raises money for athletic scholarships.

During his undergraduate years, the younger Eyre often introduced himself as "Dean from the Daily" while working – and taking photographs for – the student newspaper. One big event he covered was the 1978 celebration of Sun Day, an outgrowth of Earth Day highlighting solar energy, both organized by alumnus Denis Hayes.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in communication, Eyre stuck pretty close to The Farm, landing a job at nearby Sunset Books in Menlo Park, where he worked on a 1982 book, Solar Remodeling, to show homeowners how to take advantage of passive solar energy.

"The best thing about Sunset Books was that was where I met my wife, Suzanne," said Eyre.

A model of collegiality and collaboration

Eyre returned to Stanford in 1984 to work for the Graduate School of Business as a publications coordinator in a fixed-term position; he joined the Undergraduate Research Opportunities program, as assistant to the director, in 1988. While the office has changed names over the years, Eyre has remained a constant.

"At work, Dean's sharp eye and encyclopedic institutional memory are indispensible," Brian Thomas, an associate dean in Undergraduate Advising and Research, wrote in a letter nominating Eyre for the Amy Blue Award. "Having supported undergraduate research at Stanford across decades (and at least as many acronyms), he is in a unique position to help us reflect positively and critically on past practices and current opportunities."

Thomas and other colleagues also applauded Eyre's commitment to getting people in the office to "go green" through his work with the Sweet Hall Green Team; to helping Native American students thrive at Stanford through weekly lunches at Muwekma-Tah-Ruk, Stanford's Native American theme house; and to photographing the annual Stanford Powwow, a three-day event in the Eucalyptus Grove every Mother's Day Weekend that includes dance competitions and other activities and draws American Indians from across the western United States.

"How can someone with a full-time job dedicate this amount of their time and energy to such an array of causes?" Thomas wrote. "Surely this is evidence of a deep-seated and selfless personal conviction about what an individual can offer to a community."

Eyre received many accolades from people who nominated him for the award:

  • "Although he is not in a position of leadership in our organization, he impacts every one of us in ways I think he does not know. For example, he inspired me to try to evolve our organization into one in which individuals are praised for valuing one another, which is now a key component of our bi-weekly all-hands staff meetings. Dean is an absolute treasure of a human being, and a founding architect of the new culture of Undergraduate Advising and Research."
  • "His is the voice of reason and calm in any situation, offering thoughtful and insightful opinions. He is the antithesis of self-promoting or political; he is the 'glue' in whatever office he is affiliated with, the person we all can count on for honesty, intelligence, bringing any task to completion, and never – ever – complaining. What a gift!"

  • "Students seek him out, knowing that they will get his full attention and will be well-served. Staff go to him because we know that Dean cares as much about the person as he does about the project."

  • "His work in effecting environmental changes in the university is a good example of how Dean shows his commitment to  Stanford. He has been a dedicated environmentalist long before it was popular. He gently educated us by example, recycling every useable item for the whole department and showing us how to recycle for ourselves. He is an active member of the 'green team' for the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and his enthusiasm has almost (not quite) convinced me at age 64 of how much fun it would be to go Dumpster diving with him!"

  • "He is the consummate university citizen, never short with his time or attention, and always unfailingly kind and polite to all with whom he interacts. "

True to his reputation as a collaborator, Eyre wanted to make sure his Green Team colleagues got equal billing on the subject of energy savings for this story. The Spring 2011 issue of Cardinal Green, the quarterly newsletter produced by Sustainable Stanford, congratulated Sweet Hall's team for posting a 28 percent increase in electricity savings from 2009 during the 2010 winter closure.

"Credit for Sweet Hall's energy savings should be shared with Justin Higinbotham, Green Team coordinator;  Jiffy Vermylen, Sustainability Coordinator, and Frances Ellerbe, intern, Office of Sustainability; and Karen Lee, associate dean, administration and finance, Undergraduate Advising and Research, in particular," he wrote. "And Sweet Hall residents in general for their patient cooperation."