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Northeastern Remembers Bruce

Shared by Vickie Wallin on January 10, 2012

Northeastern University News, January 10, 2012

For some, Bruce Wallin was a man who made topics such as American government and budgeting “come to life” in the classroom. For others, he was a man with an infectious laugh, a passion for discussing politics or a reputation for “calling it like he sees it.”

But for all who knew him, Wallin was a passionate teacher who both demanded a great deal from his students and cared deeply about them — as he did his colleagues, friends and family.

The Northeastern University community is remembering Wallin, associate professor of political science, who passed away on Dec. 29 after a short battle with cancer. A memorial service for the Northeastern community will be held Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 3:30 p.m. in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

Since joining the faculty in 1990, Wallin made an enormous impact on the university. He instructed hundreds of students in the fields of American politics, public finance and budgeting, and his dedication to the craft of teaching — combined with his vibrant personality — made his classes legendary. Twice, he was recognized by his students and colleagues with the university's Excellence in Teaching Award.

“Bruce always put students first,” said Chris Bosso, professor and associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “He cared deeply about their success, and he poured immense energy and time into ensuring that his students learned what he felt they needed to know to thrive in their careers, and as people.”

Wallin worked with students each year to apply for the Truman Scholarship — a prestigious honor recognizing students with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, the nonprofit sector or other public service. He also led student trips to Japan and was instrumental in setting up a partnership with Meiji University in Tokyo. 

Wallin’s scholarship also earned praise in academic and public affairs circles. His book on federal revenue sharing received an award from the American Political Science Association, and he authored insightful studies on government finance for the Brookings Institution and Twentieth Century Fund. 

Northeastern political science professor and close friend John Portz gave the eulogy at Wallin’s funeral service in Boston last week. Portz, who worked as his teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said teaching was Wallin’s true calling in life. 

“Bruce touched the lives of so many students, not only when they were in his classroom, but well beyond,” he said. “Bruce kept in touch with so many students. He wanted them to succeed.”

He shared many of Wallin’s quotes, including: “If there is no wind, row.”

“Bruce would help students ‘to row,’ but he knew they needed to reach those heights with their own efforts,” he said.

One of those students is doctoral candidate Chris Chanyasulkit. She also worked as Wallin’s teaching assistant for three semesters, and recalled how he could make any topic interesting in class. Chanyasulkit called him a mentor, noting how he not only helped her secure an internship in U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s office but also regularly talked about the importance of family.

“He was so much more to me than just a teacher or professor. He was a friend,” said Chanyasulkit.

John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community relations and a former Boston city councilor, recalled that when he first began reaching out to Jamaica Plain residents in his district while running for office as a 24-year-old, Wallin was one of the first people to call him back.

They ultimately formed a strong bond that extended beyond Tobin’s office in City Hall, where several of Wallin’s students worked on co-op.

“He was a great friend and a great mentor to his students,” Tobin said. “His name will live on for a long time at Northeastern and in Boston.”

Student Stories

Shared by Annabelle Wallin on January 9, 2012
Shared by Peter Richter on January 3, 2012

Spent an hour writing some memories and then lost it while posting... (fumble fingered I guess) posting a bit of a rambling video instead....

All our love to the immediate family,

Peter Richter and Mary Rimsans

From Mark, Longtime Berkeley Friend

Shared by Vickie Wallin on January 1, 2012

December 29, 2011

Dear Vickie, Anna, Eva, and Other Friends and Family of Bruce:

My condolences to you family members upon Bruce’s passing! I wish almost as badly as Bruce did that he could have seen Ann and Eva graduate from the academic programs in which they are currently engaged.

Here are a few reflections upon Bruce, who I have always considered to be one of my most enjoyable, entertaining, and charming friends. 

I first met Bruce in the autumn of 1969.  It was just after he had arrived in the Dept. of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, to start work on his Ph.D. in public administration.  At that time, I had already been  working on a graduate degree in political theory in that same department.    

Bruce was one of a half-dozen new and continuing graduate students that Aaron Wildavsky, Chair of the Department (1966-69), and soon to be the founding Dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy (1969), had gathered to work on one of his lifelong foci, governmental budgeting.  Aaron had published The Politics of the Budgetary Process in 1964.  This book immediately hurtled Aaron into national prominence in the little universe of academic public administration. The book was ultimately named by the American Society for Public Administration in Year 2000 as "the third most influential work in public administration in the last fifty years."

That Aaron selected Bruce to be one of his proteges, thus, was an indication of Bruce's talents even as he was still only at the doorway to his professional career.  The research in which Aaron engaged these protoges ultimately led to another work, published in 1973, for which Aaron also received a lot of national attention, in spite of the fact that it had one of the longest titles in the history of academic political science -- Implementation:  How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed In Oakland;  Or Why It's Amazing That Federal Programs Work At All.

If you are getting a sense that Aaron was "a hard-headed realist," even in the face of the national turmoil that ultimately contributed to the end of the Vietnam War, you are right!  As Wikipedia says of Aaron, "Wildavsky is associated with the idea of incrementalism in budgeting, meaning that the most important predictor of a future political budget is the prior one; not a rational economic or decision process undertaken by the state."   

Bruce was made in the same “incrementalist” intellectual mold.  And that shared intellectual propensity is probably one of the things that turned Bruce and Aaron into lifelong friends as well as colleagues.

The irony of my lifelong friendship with Bruce is that I was, and largely still am, a utopian rather than an incrementalist.  The key to our friendship, I think, is that there was also some utopian strands in Bruce’s personal constitution.  One of his early friendships in Berkeley, for instance, was with Country Joe McDonald, leader of the internationally acclaimed anti-war rock-and-roll band, Country Joe and The Fish.  Bruce loved the spectacular international cinema of the early 1970's, which was plentifully available at the remarkable Pacific Film Archive at UCB.  Bruce was also the first male I heard profess himself to be, back in 1970, "an ardent feminist?"

There was also a deep vein of competitiveness in Bruce.  You could see it in the way he did academic work when I first met him, and in the way I suspect he did it right up to the time he became unable to teach further.  Bruce lived most of the last twenty years in Boston, teaching at Northeastern University.  I have continued to live in or near Berkeley for the last forty years.  Nevertheless, we usually carried on a couple of telephone conversations per year.  On these calls, one of the things that Bruce most proudly announced to me was when he had been, several times I believe, selected as one of the “Outstanding Teachers” on the Northeastern campus!

I also had the pleasure to watch Bruce and Vickie create and raise a family that features two lovely and very lively daughters, Ann and Eva.  I saw you all several times over the last twelve years.  You two parents were lucky to have these two remarkable daughters, and vice versa!  I last saw your family when I visited Bruce in Boston in late October, 2011.  As you well know, Bruce was waging a tough physical battle at the time, but he was filled with love for his daughters, and with a deep appreciation for to you for your willingness to try to make Ann and Eva as much a part of his final months, weeks, and days, as you possibly could.

In closing, I heard about Bruce's passing this morning around noon from his sister, Barbara, another of the family members he was blessed to have surrounding and supporting him in his final months.  

A couple of hours later, I heard Terry Gross, the great National Public Radio interviewer, rebroadcasting an interview she has done in late summer with eighty-three-year-old Maurice Sendak, famed author of Where The Wild Things Are, and, most recently Bumble Ardy (2011).  Of the close to 200 interviews Gross did this year, "It was this interview," she says, "that received the most wildly enthusiastic email response from my listeners."  In the interview, Sendak said that he had always been a wild and irrepressible fellow in whom his mischievous inner child had remained very strong.  He said that the only thing that grieves him in his elder years is that those friends most dear to him are leaving the earth before he is. "This makes me," he said, "feel very lonely!"  He concluded, "As I sit in my study, looking out at the beautiful hundred year old elms, I realize that I am in love with life and in love with the world!  And the one admonition I can give to your listeners, Terry, is "Live your life!  Live your life!! Live your life!!!"

I think that Bruce had that same "love of life and the world."  And I think he would make the same admonishment to all of you!

Mark M.


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