David M. Purdy

Sep 05, 2013
David M. Purdy

Unity — A memorial service for David M. Purdy, 81, who died Nov. 26, 2012, will be held at Unity College Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Unity Sept. 21, at 5 p.m.

Purdy was born June 18, 1931, in Ipswich, Mass., son of Mrs. Annie M. Purdy. From a young age he embodied lifelong learning and the value of experiences. After graduating from Ipswich High School, he received a bachelor of arts degree from Bates College in Lewiston, where he was a letterman in baseball and football. He proudly served our country in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean Conflict, providing leadership as first lieutenant; he received the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the UN Service Medal. He attended Georgetown University, Washington D.C. where he received a masters of science degree in political science, before ultimately finishing his academic training at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a PhD in political science. David’s forethought and sense of adventure led him to East Asia, where he spent many months travelling, interviewing key political figures and gathering information to write a dissertation about the U.S. influence on East Asia as a developing region.

During his early adult years while attending Berkeley, David escaped from his studies by spending time hiking the Sierra Mountains. He shared many lovely stories about his travels in the High Sierra back country — from drinking fresh, unfiltered water from clean alpine rivers to sleeping in meadows without a tent or tarp under benign, starlit skies. He hung on tightly atop Douglas firs in rain and windstorms much like John Muir did. His reverence for natural places, thirst for adventure and discovery, and the natural educator within him eventually led him to leading Boy Scout troops. These boys had no idea they would carry David’s positive influence well into their 60s now as grandfathers. David received letters and Christmas cards from these fathers and grandfathers and their families every year.

In 1976, David moved to a small home in Troy and began his epic career as professor at Unity College. This small and young institution grew and was shaped in positive ways under his influence, educational and administrative leadership. He continued providing rich and diverse experiences for students in and out of the classroom, asking probing questions of his students and encouraging fun discourse in his experiential classrooms. Unity College faculty and students alike remember him as a “wild man” dancing at Friday night band nights, a “rebel” of political administrations, a “generous man” who left concert tickets lying on the ground waiting for unsuspecting students. He even gave a generous gift to Unity College to bring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to campus to deliver an address commemorating the 40th anniversary of the college. He also started a scholarship fund for non-traditional students in his name.

David never married. He knew at a young age that he would live an independent lifestyle, free to explore his passions and to share his life with his students, friends, and those who showed up. He said, “I never had my own children, but I have about 2,000 of them.” From Boy Scouts to Unity College students, David developed close connections of the heart, creating a lifetime of family that spans many decades all over the world. The quote, “You can learn more about a person during an hour of play than during a lifetime of conversation,” is evidence of David’s ability to create long-lasting friendships based around the philosophical and educational framework of having fun. He drove the men’s soccer team to games across New England, and when he got older, was their biggest fan on the bleachers at home games. One of his favorite lines in the book ‘Wind in the Willows’ was “There’s nothing quite like messing around in boats, just simply messing around in boats.” He ran many of Maine’s great rivers with students for their first time, teaching them outdoor skills that would last a lifetime; or, took them to Baxter State Park to hike Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin. He understood the value in connecting people to wilderness places that, in turn, fostered a sense of ultimate respect and need for stewardship by those students who now are leaders in today’s conservation fields. His unique blend of qualities from brother to father to friend earned him the respect and admiration of these students. It’s likely that in nearly 30 years of teaching at Unity College, not a single student left graduation without a special thanks or sentiment for David.

He donated much of his time and money to conservation groups and disadvantaged populations. His property abutted Carlton Bog, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He volunteered for the service for more than 30 years, keeping a watchful eye on the bog’s delicate ecosystem. He was a member and supporter of various organizations including the Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, Nature Conservancy, and various local groups. He was a selectman for the Town of Troy for many years, providing leadership and wisdom on various issues. Local teenagers who fished in Carlton Bog knew him as “Mr. Purdy.” He left an Old Town Discovery canoe at the edge of his property for their use if they asked permission first, could swim, and wore and took good care of his life jackets, paddles, and of course, the boat…which of course, they did!

David was a big fan of opera, classical music and its composers, poetry, rock and roll, taco parties, travelling, culture, staying up to date with news, current events and keeping people around him well informed, well after his 2001 retirement from Unity College. He will forever be remembered as a great educator by thousands of friends and is survived by Ryan Howes, who was like a grandson to him. In his Will and Testament, David asked that those wishing to honor him listen to Verdi’s Requiem.

Special thanks given to Shorey-Nichols Funeral Home for providing cremation services and to Unity College for planning a funeral ceremony in David’s memory. David’s remains will be spread on Katahdin thereafter.

Donations in David Purdy’s memory can be made out to Unity College and will go toward his scholarship fund so that his legacy lives on in the students of tomorrow.

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