Passings: Professor Emeritus Gene Denzel

Gene Denzel
Gene Denzel
Gene Denzel
Gene Denzel

On Aug. 19, York University lost a stalwart with the passing of George E. Denzel, widely known as “Gene,” at the age of 80. In a career that spanned all but a decade of York’s history, Gene made enormous contributions to the University’s academic and administrative growth. He joined the then Department of Mathematics in 1970 after receiving his PhD at the University of Washington in 1965 and appointments at Dartmouth and at the University of Missouri. He became graduate program director and Chair of the department within a decade of arriving and oversaw the growth of the department, including the launch of new programs in statistics and mathematics for commerce. He avidly promoted the expansion of the use of computing in teaching statistics.

Gene then became a major leader in overseeing the University’s transition into the digital age. He served for eight years as chair of the Academic Users Committee during critical phases of the growth of computing systems at York. Always willing to serve where he was needed as York went through the early challenges of creating its student record systems, he served as registrar and associate vice-president from 1991 to 1998.

Gene Leading a Birding Group in Richmond Hill
Gene Denzel leading a birding group in Richmond Hill

He is remembered by his colleagues for his extraordinary warmth and kindness combined with his profound pragmatic wisdom. His presence on a committee seemed to guarantee that it would be guided by the highest principles. He was an engaging conversationalist and a practical philosopher with fascinating observations about human behaviour in academia but with no cynicism and with a great generosity of spirit. His deep, abiding decency spread to others. His faith that colleagues would want to do what was right had a self-fulfilling quality. He left a legacy of collegial governance in its best sense in both the mathematics department and throughout the wider University.

People often sought out Gene’s wise counsel and over the years he served in a multitude of roles, including Chair of both Senate and the Academic Planning and Policy Committee. He also served on many executive committees at every level of the University, including the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) executive. At various times he acted as a decanal and presidential advisor and as academic colleague to the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).

Gene is also remembered for many of his other passions. He was an avid runner with many running partners among colleagues at York University. They report fond memories of their training with him for the Toronto Marathon. He was also an aficionado of wine making.

Retirement allowed Gene and his wife Charlene to devote themselves wholeheartedly to two abiding passions, nature conservancy and birding. His colleagues in the birding community credit his excellence as a mentor for novice birders to his patience and teaching skills. For more than 25 years, Gene led outings and hikes with club members. He also conducted introductory birding sessions for families at events like Richmond Hill’s Mill Pond Splash. He was a popular speaker who shared stories of his travels and birding adventures with Toronto-area nature groups.

Together, Gene and Charlene walked hundreds of kilometres across southern Ontario and around the world. They also supported nature groups and conservation efforts, particularly through the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Gene also spent countless hours supporting efforts to conserve local green spaces in Richmond Hill and the GTA.

Gene leaves behind his wife Charlene, who also served York for many years, his three children, Paul, Colin and Denise, their spouses, children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family requests that donations in Gene’s name may be made to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which Gene and Charlene supported for 40 years.