A Life of Lessons: Bill Rohlf
Dr. Bill Rohlf was born to be a professor. Sure, as a young man Bill played football, completed a stint in the Army and learned to fish, but this was mostly prelude. From the start I believe there was a classroom out there waiting for him. In fact, when I think of Bill Rohlf I mostly picture him in his natural habitat. I can hear him heralding the beginning of his classes with his legendary call to happiness. I can see the smile on his face as he warms up the classroom and sets the agenda. I loved to walk by his classroom at the point when he would introduce new students to the wonders of economics. They would sit there listlessly, sorting their gear and looking at Rohlf as though this was just another class. But I knew what was coming next. These students needed to buckle their seat belts and stow their tray tables. We are cleared for takeoff.
Once off the “runway” – the obligatory introduction of the syllabus and class introductions – Bill would take his students on a journey. They saw economic models, illustrated by everything from vending machines to hotel lighting. They heard the booming voice of economic reasoning, rumbling through graphs and curves and down the straightaway of better judgment. I’ve seen Bill become an actor, singer and comedian in order to keep his economics flight on its course. I’m convinced he would have gladly tap danced if he thought it contributed to marginal reasoning.
The plane sometimes landed rather abruptly. So often at the end of one of Bill’s classes there would be a few students still sitting dazed in their seats and one or two others milling about the dry-erase board. At the board they found the multicolored remnants of the flight plan. “What do we do now?” they ask after an emergency landing. And then here would come Bill. He would have three or four bulldog clips pinned to his shirt placket. He would lug his latest haul of homework, along with an odd yardstick or other device used for illustration. He was calm, even placid. He is the pilot who just stuck the landing. He and his students would reach their destination.
Roy Hardy, Jr., one of Dr. Rohlf’s current students, has boarded the plane plenty of times. “After taking one class with Dr. Rohlf I knew I wanted to add economics as a major,” he says. “Dr. Rohlf is my ‘Drury Difference.’ I jokingly tell him that he is selfish for leaving me at Breech with just one more year before I complete my degree, but my memories of him will never leave me. I truly believe he is one of the greatest professors of all time.”
Bill is an able pilot, a master professor. But he is also an adventurer. In the more than twenty years that I have known him, there was never a time when Bill Rohlf wasn’t pondering new problems. His love of learning is infectious to both colleagues and students. It has taken many of us on journeys we might never have embarked on ourselves, and we are all the better for it.
Besides home base with his family, Bill does have one other natural habitat. We are longtime fishing buddies and Bill brings a similar enthusiasm to the boat. Despite our abysmal record, he always looks forward to the next cast. I am so grateful for all those years of hopeful fishing together, and I wish Bill all the best in his adventures ahead.
By Dr. Clifton Petty, Professor of Management