Economics and Business Professor Emeritus Don Cell dies

June 12th, 2013

Professor Emeritus of Economics and Business Don Cell died June 12 of an acute aortic dissection. He was 81.

Cell taught at Cornell College for 38 years, from 1962 until his retirement in 2000. As a teacher and mentor, he was known above all for his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and inspiring others—students and colleagues alike—to do the same. His research focused on the economics of democracy and the way voters and elected representatives make decisions, the intersection between economics and social philosophy, and environmental economics.

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His work appeared in publications in Eastern Iowa and around the country, from the Mount Vernon Sun to the Washington Post. He testified at a Congressional hearing about noise pollution from aircrafts, and consulted with local communities about recycling. Throughout his time at Cornell, Cell worked with other departments, and refused to be bound by a single, declared discipline. In honoring his retirement in 2000, Cornell Dean Dennis Damon Moore said there was no limit to Cell’s ideas. Moore also recognized Cell’s commitment to the Cornell College community, from chairing his department, to serving on all the major committees, to mentoring students.

Cell retired to a capacious new study in his Mount Vernon home, surrounded by his more than 2,000 books, journals, and piles of newspaper clippings. He wrote, researched, and as always, questioned popular conceptions. At his death he was completing an essay on civil rights and a book on economic and political aspects of environmental issues.

Cell graduated from the University of Illinois in 1954, then served four years as a Naval aviator on the aircraft carrier F.D. Roosevelt. He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Cell is survived by his wife, Suki, and two children, daughter Jennifer, and son Ben Cell ’90.

A memorial service will be held in King Chapel at 3 p.m. on Oct. 23.

18 Responses to “Economics and Business Professor Emeritus Don Cell dies”

  1. Robin Reid says:

    I am saddened to learn this. My deepest sympathies to his family. I also admired Don’s low key way of expressing himself. He seemed grounded and balanced on his views of the world RIP old colleague.

  2. Zarni Htet says:

    I am very sad to learn this. My deepest sympathies to Suki and his family. Professor Cell was a great and inspiring teacher. I did not get to take his class but had the opportunity spend 8-9 quality hours with him and was changed by the interaction.
    My deepest sympathies,
    Zarni Htet

  3. Chris Carlson, Professor Emeritus of Sociology says:

    We have lost one of our very best. Don’s Cornell colleagues will remember him for the acuity of his intellect, for his persistence in pursuing a problem to its solution, for his commitment to academic freedom and the well-being of the professoriate, and for his dedication to his students. The last email I received from Don was in May, about the role of prediction in economics, defending the role and value of the social sciences to the end. Way to go Don!

  4. Bob Thomas says:

    RIP Don.

  5. Bill Hovenden says:

    As a graduate of the class of 1963 and as Economics and Business Major, I have many fond memories of “Professor Cell”. He was absolutely interested in everything under the sun. Being the consummate educator he was, he was quick to poke holes in your logic especially when you had rested “your case” on faulty logic. I can see him now forming that slightly off centered smile before releasing his carefully contemplated response. Don took an interest in everyone. He had a knack for finding common ground upon which a friendship could be built. His life was one of few fanfares. He was content to spend his life serving his students and Cornell.

    Bill Hovenden, PhD ’63

  6. Matthew Lang says:

    As an economics major graduating in 1996 I had the pleasure of taking Professor Cell’s classes. I still use material from his lectures today. I often reference the true public cost of resources such as our water and air. It is as applicable and interesting now as it was 17 years ago.

    It was a loss to the Cornell students when he retired in 2000 and is a greater loss now. I am sorry the current students don’t get to hear his lectures and my deeper sympathy for his family and close friends of his passing.

  7. David Gant says:

    Dr. Cell was an advisor of mine and my first Econ professor. Interesting man. RIP

  8. Bill Smale says:

    Always challenging, always caring, always encouraging, always helping. What more could anyone hope for or expect from a teacher and friend? Bill Smale

  9. Graham Harman says:

    Don was the first professor I ever knew (I met his son Ben in 1st grade), as well as the first pilot I ever knew. His capacity for sustained effort in his study was awe-inspiring, and as 7-year-olds we always played quietly when he was at work. The last time we spoke –on the phone, last September– he still had an almost intimidating alertness to every word in the conversation, along with his usual well-reasoned and unorthodox thoughts on numerous topics. He was also a passionate sports fan, not just of tennis but also of basketball. I was in his presence when his beloved Boston Celtics had some of their greatest victories during the Larry Bird era, and his enthusiasm for the games was delightful.

  10. Carol Ridder Thompson says:

    As an Economics and Business major from the class of 1973, Dr. Cell was one of my Economics professors. I also had the good fortune to get to know Suki when she was at the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Cell challenged you to think critically about the topics discussed. He cared about the success of his students. He will be missed. The Cornell College family has lost a good one.

  11. Bob Nellis says:

    I got to know Don Cell long after he retired and so very glad I did. A gentleman and scholar, who was very kind and a good friend to my mentor Walt Stromer in his later years.

  12. Hugh Lifson says:

    Early on, when we first got to Mount Vernon, we met a couple who were–and are–the most sympatico we could ever hope to find. Suki and Don have been dear, dear friends.

    On has been an intellectual stimulant and sparring partner ( emphasize the word partner). During many, many picnics, excursions to the beach at Coralville Lake, we always found time to delve into pressing ( at least we thought so) issues. When Sue, my wife, and often Suki despaired of our spirited-shall I say–discussions, we always used to say, ” We were just clarifying points.”

    The agonic relationship continued elsewhere–particularly on the croquet field–Don’s field: a patch of his back lawn and garden laid out on about a 60 degree grade. Son would invariably emerge triumphant, that is except when m father-in-law with his own hand made malate came to town. Don pointed out. very rationally )as one might expect) that he had an unfair advantage, and so he made a malate for Don, ad Then Don was unbeatable.

    So I affectionately remember Don as a good friend who would never disappoint, whenever I needed intellectual– or quasi intellectual stimulus.

    And so I must say : go Red Sox, and go Don

    Hugh Lifson

  13. Craig Shives says:

    It was Dr. Cell who introduced me to the study of Economics and mentored me through my years at Cornell as an advisor and a friend. At the time he was a recent graduate from Columbia University with a PhD in economics. He had a kind and mild personality, a very strong and inquiring intellect and a keen ability to use the science of economics to explain much of human behavior. One of my favorite memories of Dr. Cell is indicative both of his dedication to his students and the culture of Cornell College. I had studied late in to the night for a final exam in one of his classes to be given the following day. In the morning my alarm clock did not wake me and I slept through the beginning of the exam. Dr. Cell called my dorm when I failed to show and asked whether I intended to take the exam. “Of course,” I said, apologized for oversleeping, thanked him for calling, dressed hurriedly and rushed across campus to write the exam.
    I am deeply saddened by Don’s sudden death and extend my heartfelt sympathy to Suki and their family.
    Craig Shives

  14. Shannon Staton Sandvig '96 says:

    I am saddened to learn this, Don cell have my advisor. He helped we decide on BOTH Econ/Business and Environmental Science as my degree. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends. I also admired Don’s low key way teaching, assisting students, as well as the community. His view of the world and his endless abilities to question with norn have been great inspiration to me. There is a better way but you do not have to create a storm to find it!!!! Thank you for you lasting impact on me both with book knowledge as well as world knowledge!

  15. Leslie Kathleen Hankins says:

    My family–Cliff, Clarissa & Lydia Rose and I–have many glowing memories of Don Cell from the generous seders given at the Cell household springs past. His patient, kind, dry humor and rich wisdom will be much missed. There was always that magical twinkle in his eyes. Our love and sympathy to Suki, Jennifer and Ben in this time of loss. You are a glorious family and have given so much to all around you; you are in our hearts.
    Leslie Hankins, Cliff Rappoport, Clarissa and Lydia Rose

  16. Jim McWethy says:

    I graduated from Cornell in 1965, with a major in Economics. I had the pleasure of taking the two course sequence in Public Finance from Professor Cell as a senior. This sequence also included writing a senior thesis, which was required by Cornell at the time. The course was fantastic, and all of us students (there were less than 10 of us), were intellectually challenged. When I reconnected with Cornell about 20 years ago, and I subsequently became a trustee, Don and I also reconnected, and usually got together for breakfast, at a cafe in Lisbon, when I was in Mt. Vernon. We were in frequent contact up until just weeks before his passing. Don and I did not always agree on policy issies, and neither of us was successful in changing the other’s viewpoint, BUT, he really made me re-examine my arguements. He was great at that! He had an incredible mind, and exemplified what Cornell is……………… a place where there are exceptional opportunities for intellectual growth. I will really miss the emails from him, which I always read immediately. I miss him already. Condolances to Suki. Jim McWethy

  17. Heather Anderson says:

    I write with a grateful heart about a man who greatly impacted my life as a Economics student as well as a personal friend. I had the pleasure of taking many of Don Cell’s courses and wrote my thesis with him in 1993. More recently Don and Suki visited my home in South Africa and took part in our mission church experience in the black township of Gugulethu, Cape Town. I again reside in South Africa and was hoping to extend another invitation to them both; I am saddened to realize that our visit will not take place in this life but believe that we will have many more debates, discussions, and talks of the heart in the life to come. My deepest sympathies go out to Suki, the family, and the Cornell College family who loved him dearly. Heather Anderson