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Honouring three McMaster legends

This fall, we have said goodbye to three respected academics and colleagues: Syed Ahmad, David Counts and Peter Pineo. To celebrate their lives and bodies of work, we have collected commemorative posts for each of these distinguished professors emeriti.

Dec 18, 2020

Dr. Syed AhmadSyed Ahmad, Economics

Dr. Syed Ahmad came to McMaster from the University of Kent at Canterbury, United Kingdom, in 1972 to join the Department of Economics. During his more than 20-year career at McMaster, Dr. Ahmad served as an instructor, an active researcher, and from 1983 to 1986, the department chair. He was highly regarded as a superb scholar, and a congenial and helpful colleague.

Fellow faculty member Professor Emeritus Atif Kubursi shared some of his memories of Dr. Ahmad. “Syed’s deep mastery of economics was evident to all of us. His participation in seminars was a treat, and his willingness to share his knowledge was a defining characteristic of his life at McMaster that all enjoyed and benefitted from,” he recalled. 

Dr. Ahmad’s body of scholarly work remains highly regarded by economists internationally. His seminal contributions were often anchored in capital theory and the history of economic thought.

Dr. Kubursi summarized three defining features of Dr. Ahmad’s scholarship. First, regardless of the subject, Dr. Ahmad’s research involved deep theoretical underpinnings. He was willing to debate with giants in the field, including Nobel laureates Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow, in a way that contributed to the advancement of knowledge.

Second, Dr. Ahmad’s debates invariably ended in leading economists conceding to him on controversial points. Dr. Kubursi recalled witnessing a conversation in which Paul Samuelson confirmed that Syed had won the debate on re-switching. 

Lastly, theory, for Dr. Ahmad, was necessary but not sufficient.

“No contribution of Syed was considered as complete unless it involved drawing policy implications and informing the policy decision processes,” Dr. Kubursi elaborated.

Dr. Ahmad’s memory will live on through the many colleagues and students with whom he interacted. Whether reminiscing about his scholarly debates, or reflecting on his warmth and open-mindedness, Dr. Ahmad will be fondly remembered as a great mind, a great theorist and a genuine scholar.


Dr. David CountsDavid Counts, Anthropology (1934–2020)

Dr. David Counts was a faculty member and chair in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University between 1968 to 1996. He is fondly remembered as a gifted teacher and mentor to many anthropology students.

Dr. Counts earned his PhD from the University of Southern Illinois. His research focused primarily on the Pacific Islands—specifically in the province of West New Britain in Papua New Guinea—and the long-term processes of economic change. He was interested in the unintended consequences of planned change and development, particularly those consequences affecting rural populations outside the main centres of development and urbanization.

Later in his academic career, Dr. Counts branched out into new areas of research. The first was the study of the interaction of processes of aging and dying and the way these may be affected to gender. In 1990, he began research into another aspect of aging: retirees who leave settled communities to take up nomadic life as RVers.

In his memory, McMaster’s Department of Anthropology is inviting donations to the Anthropology Student Bursary Fund to carry on 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. 

Read more about David Counts


Dr. Peter PineoPeter Pineo, Sociology (1934–2020)

Dr. Peter Pineo was one of the founding members of McMaster’s sociology programs, establishing the MA and PhD programs with the department’s earliest faculty members. He envisioned the potential of sociology to help us understand important issues of the day, and in the importance of having Canadian graduate programs available for Canadian students. His work on sociology of marriage and the family was among the first to harness longitudinal data to understand the decline in marital happiness.

Dr. Pineo is most well-known for developing measures of occupational prestige in Canada in collaboration with John Porter and also with Hugh McRoberts, which have been foundational to many subfields of Canadian sociology. Pineo’s insights on occupational prestige were also of critical importance to understanding status differences between ethnic groups in Canada, providing an important cornerstone for the theoretical and empirical development of the sociology of race and ethnicity in Canadian sociology.

As a teacher, he was known for his wry sense of humour. So much so, that his undergraduate students formed an informal “Pineo Appreciation Society.” He was a firm believer in the importance of carefully examined empirical evidence, particularly from large scale surveys and databases. One of his ongoing legacies is evident in the skills in complex quantitative analyses that he nurtured in so many of his students. 

Read more about Peter Pineo