Editor’s Note: Worrell Professor David Coates died Aug. 7, 2018, following an illness. He was 71. Read more about him.
It is with deepest gratitude and admiration that I remember my friendship with David Coates. Our community has lost one of its brightest lights, and his vision will live on in the minds of those who learned from him, and the hearts of those who knew him.
Dr. Coates was a respected academic, a dedicated professor and an irreplaceable asset to our University. But more than that, his students loved him because he was a good person, a friend and our mentor. No amount of literature (not even by Dr. Coates’ standard) can describe the dynamic and genuine person we knew in him.
I know that my personal experience being mentored and supported by Dr. Coates is just one of dozens of narratives of students whose lives were touched by his efforts. Many students describe him as a “kind soul,” a professor who would take 20-30 minutes at the beginning of each semester to sit individually with every student in his classes and ask about them. He understood that students had full lives outside of his class, and he treated us as colleagues.
He was an intellectual powerhouse with a deep knowledge of a variety of topics. Every week, he delivered a 2.5 hour seminar, comfortably expounding on the history of empires from Roman to Russian, only stopping for a cup of tea. Each lesson was rich with historical tidbits and witty jokes that kept us laughing as we took our notes.
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Coates’ creativity spilled into projects dedicated to raising the minimum wage for Aramark workers, organizing conferences and regularly writing articles for international publications. Somehow, during all this activity, he found time to brainstorm novels and maintain an unshakeable commitment to his family life.
Since his passing, I have talked with many other students about their memories of Dr. Coates. Most all of them focus on mentorship, and how he took personal interest in their success and empowerment. Dr. Coates challenged us to rise to the occasion and be the best version of ourselves.
He encouraged us, educated us, and did it all with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. We students count ourselves lucky to have known him, and Wake Forest will forever be indebted to his work and legacy.
Rose O’Brien (’18), a politics and international affairs major, received an English Teaching Assistantship from the U.S. Fulbright Program. She will be teaching English in Italy in 2018-19.