Former College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics dean dies
John Bear, professor of chemistry and the former dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics recently passed away at age 82.
Fahd Alfadli, Bear’s stepson, said his father cared for UH like no one else.
“Even in his last days, he was calling me saying that he needed get up and go to the University to teach his freshman chemistry class,” Alfadli said.
Bear is remembered fondly by his colleagues and children. His son lovingly referred to him as a “nutty professor” with endless stories to tell.
His close friend and colleague, professor William Fitzgibbon, said he will always remember Bear for the Southern charm, smile and contributions to UH.
“Much of what UH is today is a result of the building that took place under John’s tenure,” Fitzgibbon said. “He was dean for 18 years and chair for 17, which is incredible.”
Bear served as dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics from 1992 to 2010. Fitzgibbon met him in 1975 when Bear became the chair of the Department of Chemistry.
Under Bear’s supervision, the chemistry department rose to national prominence.
As dean, Bear was instrumental in the University achieving Tier One status. He made it a priority to hire the best faculty and to locate the resources needed to support them. He also tried to expand graduate programs and increase recruiting from graduate students abroad.
Geology professor John Casey said that Bear also worked hard to raise funds for scholarships and get more underrepresented students into the STEM program.
“He was, at the time, the one to build the college in terms of facility, faculty, and increasing enrollment,” Casey said. “He created a college that led the way to UH reaching Tier One status.”
With his loss, many see this as the end of an era of tremendous growth at UH.
“I mean we are still growing, but the kind of spirit that John had was infectious for most of the faculty,” Casey said. “I think the college will certainly miss John.”
Outside of his career at UH, Bear was also involved in his family, which is full of children and grandchildren who Alfadli said Bear always managed to make time for.
Alfadli, a UH alumnus, said that his father was always keen on education and encouraged him to still take classes after 20 years in the workforce to stay relevant in his field.
His fondest memory of Bear involves the University. Alfadli said that it was his junior-high science fair, and his father convinced him to do a project over superconductivity.
Alfadli was able to use a laboratory at the university and get ahold of liquid nitrogen for his project. He said that, while it freaked out the judges, he wouldn’t have been able to do without his father’s help.
Alfadli said that Bear always loved to travel, teaching in Pakistan and taking him on trips to Afghanistan, Vietnam and Nepal.
“We went through his old passports, and it was kind of comical how many pages they had to extend it to,” Alfadli said.
Fitzgibbon emphasized that Bear was well-liked by those that knew him and even as dean he never let his ego get in the way. He collaborated with other deans, accepted criticism, let people complain to him or about him, always listened to and never dismissed a good idea.
“I was in charge of organizing some of the memorial service, and so many people came up to me and said, ‘When I think of John, I have a smile,’” Fitzgibbon said.