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Penn State Smeal colleagues remember Paul Rigby as a man who ‘got things done … with style and grace’

April 10, 2017

Colleagues of Paul Rigby, associate dean emeritus for research and graduate programs in the Penn State Smeal College of Business, remember him as a man who could get things done with a quiet and unassuming nature. 

A memorial service for Rigby, who passed away in January, is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Nittany Lion Inn. 

Rigby impacted a wide range of groups beyond his exceptional professional contributions, including being the first chairman of the Centre Area Transit Authority, a stint as president of The Nittany Valley Symphony Guild, and serving on the boards of the then-Centre County Community Hospital, the inaugural board of the Village at Penn State, and the boards of The Nittany Valley Symphony, Centre Stage, and Music at Penn’s Woods. 

As much as he impacted those groups and organizations, perhaps his most lasting contributions came in advocating and advancing business research at Penn State and beyond. 

“Paul got things done and he did them with style and grace, seeing both the big picture and the details essential for accomplishment. Management by walking around was a large part of Paul’s style, visiting faculty in their offices, over lunch, while running during the noon hour, whatever it took,” said J.D. Hammond, dean emeritus and William Elliott Chair Emeritus. 

“Paul led the effort to shift the descriptive nature of business research to a more analytical paradigm, to couple that with the unprecedented increase in computational power available for research,” Hammond added. “Paul’s positive impact extended well beyond our campus. His book  ‘Conceptual Foundations of Business Research’ was a landmark work and so was his involvement in professional organizations.” 

Rigby continued to give back to Smeal long after his official retirement in 1995. He taught for another 10 years, until he was 85, and was an important sounding board to administrators who followed him. 

“Paul Rigby was my mentor in my first role as associate dean for research and Ph.D./M.S. programs at Smeal from 2002-2005,” said Russell Barton, senior associate dean for research and faculty. 

“Right from the start, he spent time with me every week from January 2002 through June, helping me understand what it meant to be an associate dean for research. His guidance enabled me to do good things and avoid big mistakes. I was impressed by both his kindness and his many innovations. For example, Paul had initiated and coordinated an annual meeting of about 20 associate deans of research in Chicago each year. With his guidance, I was able to restart those meetings, another tier of mentoring for me, initiated by Paul.” 

Another striking example of Rigby’s vision, as well as his powers of persuasion, lies in the story of how Gary Lilien, distinguished research professor of management science and co-founder and research director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM), was lured to Penn State. 

In 1980, Lilien was “happily employed by MIT as an associate professor.” Rigby called and informed him that he had been nominated for the position of research professor at Penn State. 

Lilien thanked him and then asked where Penn State was. He had heard of it, but having grown up in New York and working in Boston, which he viewed as a small town, he “knew little about the world between the Hudson River and the west coast.” 

And yet, “Paul convinced me that Penn State and not MIT, was the best place for me to realize my ambitions, and he was right,” Lilien said. 

That was just the first of many examples of Rigby’s persuasion that Lilien witnessed. 

“Paul seemed so gentle and unassuming that it was easy to underestimate his effectiveness. When we started the ISBM, it looked as if the contributions from sponsoring firms would have to be viewed by PSU as contractual obligations,” Lilien said. He further explained that through Rigby’s negotiations, the ISBM was able to receive all the funds it was due. “Simply a miracle,” he said. 

“Paul pulled off many little miracles like that over the years. And he consistently did so with self-effacing good humor. Paul was a man you wanted to be around because he would always raise your spirits and make you laugh. He was a net positive contribution to every interaction I had with him, both personally and professionally. The world needs more Paul Rigbys and will dearly miss this one.”

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