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Letter from an alumnus about David Bradfor, adviser

I was very saddened to learn that Professor David Bradford had lost his struggle with third-degree bums. He had many professional accomplishments, but as a Princeton student 34 years ago, I saw another side of him.

I wanted to major in urban studies, which would have to be an independent major since there was no such department. The dean told me I needed two advisors for my major and my thesis, and based on my course selections strongly recommended a politics and an economics adviser team. I recruited a politics professor relatively quickly, but couldn't get anyone in the economics department. The deadline for submitting the program to the dean was nigh, and I was running out of options.

Finally, I asked a newly?]arrived assistant professor of economics named David Bradford. He readily agreed to be my adviser, noting that I seemed rather desperate, which I certainly was. I thanked him for his mercy. But he forewarned me that he was a labor economist and econometrician and knew nothing about urban studies.

Yet over the next two years, he took a generous and careful interest in my studies. Sure enough, he lacked any relevant background, but that didn't stop him from offering lots of valuable suggestions, and indeed, he was genuinely curious about what I was studying. I wrote my senior thesis on the politics of the Italian?]American community in Newark’s North Ward, about as far from his own specialty as one can imagine. He read the draft chapters with great interest and offered very helpful comments. He would from time to time try to get me to incorporate more quantitative economics into my work, but I would always beg off, citing the fact that I had flunked math in tenth grade. Finally, one day he said to me with no small bemusement that he would not bother me with such suggestions again. When he handed back my thesis, it contained three single?]spaced typewritten pages of comments.

     It’s a safe bet that Prof. Bradford got no credit from his department or the University for taking me on and putting so much time, effort and thought into what I was studying. It had nothing to do with his own research. But none of that seemed to matter to him; he was curious and helpful every step of the way. He was simply the epitome of a great teacher should be.

I don’t say this because I think this was an unusual example of what he did, but because I’m sure it wasn't. I hope his family in particular, and his colleagues and friends know, as I do, that there are many others who were blessed by his gifts.

Princeton, N.J.


Date Posted: 04/05/21


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