CHC director emeritus remembers his late colleague, David L. Pugh

Editor's Note: Following the December 26, 2017 death of David Pugh, who headed the former Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Texas A&M, fellow Professor Emeritus David G. Woodcock shared the following rememberance of his friend and collegue.


David Woodcock
Professor Emeritus of Architecture
Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation

David Pugh's obituary that appeared during the Christmas season of 2017, beautifully written by his family, contains the requisite factual details of his existence. His birth in Wayne, Michigan, in 1942, his degrees in Art and in City and Regional Planning from the University of Oklahoma, his doctorate in law from the University of Missouri, and his early professional career as a planner in five states. It also noted his marriage to Susan, their son, Justin and his wife Laura, and the two grandchildren Kennedy and Nathaniel, and identified what the song describes as “a few of his favorite things.” A fitting description of a fine professional, and a loving husband and family man.

My perspective on David Pugh begins with his appointment to the Texas A&M University tenure-track faculty in Urban Planning in 1976. I was a member the Architecture faculty at that time, in a college dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to the planning, design and construction of the human environment. Such missions often find it hard to overcome the traditional disciplinary boundaries and expectations, but it was immediately apparent that David thought outside the departmental box, even as his rigorous preparation for every class he taught and every paper he wrote brought credit to his professional and departmental identification. He was the ideal academic for the times, bringing broad academic preparation, real-world experience, intellectual curiosity, and a genuine passion for teaching combined with a dedication to outreach.

David’s academic background welded together a deep appreciation of art and the significance of quality in the built environment, the need for systematic analysis of demographics, economics and physical place before proposing changes, and the importance of a legal framework that was accessible and transparent as well as logical as the basis for action. In each of these areas, David understood the need to consider people as human beings not statistics, and his compassion in applying all that he learned and experienced made him an extraordinary colleague.

He always reached out to students, seeing them as individuals and prospective colleagues, sharing both knowledge and wisdom in the classroom and in outside engagement. The Texas Target Cities Program reached out to communities who needed guidance and expertise, and he skillfully developed opportunities to form faculty, students, community leaders and citizens into collaborative teams who could explore comprehensive approaches to community needs. These experiences shaped his students for life-long service.

Inviting “Dr. Pugh” to serve on a graduate advisory committee was never taken lightly. Students recognized that they would be challenged every step of the way, that he would demand rigor and dedication, but we all knew that these demands were ones he imposed upon himself, and that they would be accompanied by willingness to guide and advise so that the outcome always encouraged the student to reach further and achieve more. It was also true that as a faculty member on such committees I, too, found that we explored more deeply and crossed disciplines as we joined in a mutual learning experience!

During these explorations David and I discovered a shared passion for seeing the built environment as a layered record of human accomplishment, acknowledging, as James Marston Fitch had stated, that the role of those who would shape the future must include being “curatorial managers of the (existing) built world.” Such a role required an inter-disciplinary approach, and we added to our own backgrounds in art, architecture, planning and law, by inviting the late Nancy Volkman, a distinguished landscape architect with a deep commitment to history and heritage, to join our discussions. The outcome was the first graduate certificate program established by the College of Architecture that allowed students from across the university to prepare to “manage the built environment (and its settings)” through a study of Historic Preservation. From its inception in 1995, and through the vehicle of what has now become the Center for Heritage Conservation, the vision of which David Pugh was such a critical part, has provided faculty and students from every discipline in the college, and from Civil Engineering, Anthropology, Nautical Archeology, History, Recreation, Park and Tourism Science to collaborate, and to educate generations of students to value and respect other disciplines and to shape the nature of their future communities by embracing and using the best of the past. David taught a course on Preservation Law for many years, but was always ready to provide guest lectures for introductory courses in Historic Preservation that established the constitutional support for such legislation, and provided practical case studies into the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for preservation. David was always a team player, and never wanted to take credit, but his contributions were as invaluable as they were entertaining.

David’s obituary noted that, “he seriously disliked people he thought were loud, pompous, and mean spirited.” David Pugh was a friend and a wise colleague for nearly 30 years, and his success as an acknowledged outstanding teacher and a fellowship-worthy professional was due in no small part to his quiet determination, his self-effacing brilliance as an artist, planner and legal scholar, and the un-remitting generosity of his spirit. There was nothing in him to “seriously dislike”! He was one of the most valued people in my academic world, and while I too retired from teaching soon after David, we were both fortunate enough to live long enough to watch many former students and younger colleagues develop productive and valuable careers. After family and friends, they are the greatest reward for a teacher and mentor. David Pugh made a positive difference in each of our lives. I remember him with deep gratitude, and more than the hint of a smile.


posted January 4, 2018