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Remembering David Reese Counts May 1934- Nov 2020

The Department of Anthropology & colleagues were sad to hear about the passing of Dr. David Counts this month. David was a faculty member from 1968-1996 and a chair for many years. His family provided some words about his life & requested a memorial fund for McMaster students in his name. His dedication to scholarship, Anthropology & his students will not be forgotten. The bursary is to be granted to students who have completed Level 2 of a programme in Anthropology & who demonstrate financial need. Donations to the fund can be made below.

Nov 30, 2020

David Reese Counts 02 May 1934 – 11 November 2020

David was born on 02 May 1934 in Columbia, Mississippi, and slipped quietly and peacefully away into the warmth of his dreams on 11 November 2020 in Ganges, British Columbia. His was a life well-lived - -full of adventure, love, and laughter. He had a life-long thirst for knowledge, boundless curiosity, and an unquenchable optimism. David was an ardent Tolkien fan, an enthusiastic cook, a decent bass, and a steadfast political activist committed to social justice and conservation. With Dorothy, his wife, partner, and companion of 62 years by his side, he was ever ready to embrace new friends, new ideas, and new experiences. Their home was always open to friends and family of all ages to drop in for a coffee, a beer, a meal, an overnight, or a month.

David had an abiding passion for the outdoors (and screwdrivers, of which he had ~50!), and was never happier than when he was hiking, camping, and exploring, especially in the mountains. He served as a seasonal ranger at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado from 1961 to 1968, and he was active for many years in the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies.

David’s life was shaped and defined by his scholarship. After receiving his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in 1968, he accepted a faculty position in the Anthropology Department at McMaster University, where he remained until his retirement as Full Professor in 1996. He was a gifted teacher and a mentor to young academics, many of whom became life-long friends. He chaired the department for many years and prided himself on finding ways to work around the university bureaucracy for the benefit of students and colleagues. His field research in West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, spanned 50 years, and he developed a deep love and respect for the people of Kandoka village, whom he regarded as members of his family. David was a committed and active member of the Association for Social Anthropology. In recognition of his contributions, he was named Honorary Fellow of ASAO, a rare distinction and honour. His professional legacy, including ground-breaking work in cross-cultural perspectives on aging and death, and on the RV-ing phenomenon in North America, will not soon be forgotten.

Even in retirement and as he faced the challenge of declining eyesight, David never abandoned his passion for knowledge, but simply transferred it to new realms, becoming a lecturer and learner with the Society for Learning in Retirement (Kelowna) and then the Seniors Centre on Salt Spring Island. An active contributor to both organizations, he continued to expand his intellectual horizons and inspired others to do the same. As a friend remarked, “His vision was just so much more than his eyesight.”

David is predeceased by his beloved wife Dorothy, and survived by his sisters Catherine (Gerald) and Molly, as well as his children Rebecca (Tim), Bruce (Anita), Riley (Kayte), and Stephen, grandchildren Caitlin (Tyler), Lowell (Anne), Shawn (Bev), and Stephen (Christine), and great-grandchildren Scarlett, Olivia, and Dorothy.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Médecins sans Frontières, or the Alzheimer’s Society.


We are inviting donations to the Anthropology Student Bursary Fund in memory of Dr. David Counts who was a faculty member from 1968-1996 and a chair for many years in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University.  Over that period he was a gifted teacher and mentor to many anthropology students and this fund will continue his legacy.  The Anthropology Student Bursary was established in 1996 by faculty, alumni and friends of the Department  of Anthropology.  To be granted to students who have completed Level 2 of  a programme in Anthropology and who demonstrate financial need. 

Donations to the fund can be made here David Counts Memorial – Anthropology Bursary Fund.