“Reuben Zubrow is a household name at the University of Colorado Boulder. The professor of economics taught for 43 years and is remembered as an engaging, energetic, challenging, and humorous instructor. Zubrow passed away in 1997 at the age of 83, only five years after he finished teaching at the university.” Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine, March 2016
Dr. Zubrow was a professor who taught more than 40,000 students over the course of his career at the university. He fully retired at age 78.
I took his course, the introductory Principles of Economics, in 1973. I don’t remember interacting with him personally. The class had 500 students and was held in the massive Chemistry 140 classroom. I went to one of his teaching assistants when I needed individual help. Dr. Zubrow had a zest for Economics, and for teaching. His outsized personality could seem intimidating.
I remember one day early in the school year. There was a couple in the class, the girl a cute blond, the guy in shorts with his hairy legs hanging over the seat in front, about a third of the way up the massive hall, visiting with each other as Dr. Zubrow lectured. He paused, then lasered his attention on the couple with his booming voice. “Hey. I’m not a TV. I’m a real person up here. Pay attention and listen.” He then riffed that he had noticed student behavior deteriorating with the advent of television; Students often behaved as if the professor weren’t a real person in the room. I’ve never forgotten the lesson in common courtesy and respect.
Dr. Zubrow’s daughter Suzanne was a student in his 500-student class her junior year of college. She states “He was a presence. He was a very kind man, but students were afraid of him, especially in that big class. If students fell asleep, he would throw an eraser at them. He’d tell the person next to them to wake that person up.”
Dr. Zubrow was athletic. He played football in college. He loved to play tennis. He was very competitive. Suzanne says “He was boisterous, so loving. His nurturing of [us] children in whatever we were doing was phenomenal. He had high expectations of us, not to succeed, but to contribute in whatever field we picked, and to do that with dignity and honesty. Treat people with respect, don’t ever forget that.”
She continues “Teaching was his passion. He had high expectations of his students and his family, but he was always willing to support anyone, his students or his family, that needed it. He turned down a couple of offers at possibly more prestigious institutions because they would have impacted his ability to teach.”
Dr. Zubrow was also well known as a mentor to his graduate students and fellow academics. He would discern the strengths of his students, and suggest they move towards expression of those strengths. Fellow professor Dr. Larry Singell recalls “He tended to pick out people he thought were really talented and help them go in a certain direction that would utilize that skill.” “Zubrow was a master teacher, a fine human being. He was very caring about his colleagues and students, his friends, and the University.”
Dr. Zubrow taught full time until age 75, when his wife Anne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He cut back on work to devote more time to helping her. Anne had taught math until age 70 and missed teaching. She encouraged Reuben to continue to teach. He stopped working with graduate students but continued to teach the large introductory class. Suzanne says “He loved teaching so much, even when he slowed down it kept him going. He loved the interaction with the students and other faculty. He was always learning from his students and fellow faculty.” As Anne’s disease progressed, he fully retired at age 78. Anne passed away soon after.
The last few years of his life Dr. Zubrow spent a lot of time with his four children and his grandchildren. He continued to play tennis, but with limited mobility. While he could no longer move quickly about the tennis court, his grandchildren claimed that their Gramps was a “ball magnet.” No matter where they tried to hit the ball, it seemed to head right to his racquet. He loved being outdoors and continued to walk for exercise.
As he aged and his own health declined, he remained intellectually active and continued to read across a wide range of topics. He particularly enjoyed reading The Atlantic and The New Yorker, and a variety of books.
Suzanne says her father’s life expressed some key themes:
“Dignity: He had an incredible sense that he had led a dignified life. How he treated people, how he was treated, was incredibly important to him.
Honesty: Whether intellectual honesty, honesty with family, honesty with friends. That took precedence over almost anything else.
Use Your Intelligence: It doesn’t mean you need to be the brightest but use whatever intelligence you have.
Be True to Yourself: Don’t put stuff aside when your heart is in it. Your heart is important too.
Religion was important. “He wasn’t an Orthodox Jew, but the values of Judaism were incredibly important to him: How you treat people, how you live your life.”
I see in Dr. Zubrow many actions worthy of emulation:
· He found his calling, his Unique Ability, could be expressed in teaching and mentoring. He then passionately and creatively committed to that calling with hard work consistently expressed over decades.
· As a mentor he helped his students, colleagues, and family members connect with their own unique skills and callings.
· Once the inevitable health challenges of aging began to impede his wife Anne, he chose to commit to helping her over continuing to work full time.
· As Anne’s and his personal health issues became more severe, he fully retired but remained engaged with his family, and the life of the mind.
· He maintained physical health to the extent that he was able.
A few questions to consider, in the spirit of Dr. Zubrow’s example, as you contemplate the next few years:
· What is life asking of you, right now?
· Is there currently a situation where you should consider modifying your schedule to help your spouse/life partner?
· In what ways could you spend time with your children and grandchildren, to help them engage with life more completely?
· What can you do to maintain your physical fitness?
· What is your Unique Ability? Are there ways to better express this in a work or volunteer capacity?
For a more complete understanding of Unique Ability, and to better discern yours, check out this link: https://resources.strategiccoach.com/the-multiplier-mindset-blog/what-is-unique-ability
Thank you to Suzanne Zubrow Barkin, MD for sharing about her father, and the University of Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine for their article about Dr. Zubrow.