Dan Passell, a longtime professor of philosophy at Portland State University, died Saturday, July 5, after a brief illness. He was 85.
Dr. Passell received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago and was awarded a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1964. He taught briefly at Fresno State University, then moved his family to Portland later in 1964, when he was offered a teaching position as an assistant professor at PSU.
During his teaching career, Dr. Passell mentored Portland State undergraduate and graduate students, some of whom became lifelong friends. He published the occasional paper in professional journals; and participated in the PSU Philosophy Department’s Socratic Society, where papers were read and critiqued by colleagues and students. In his first decade at PSU, he risked his career to lead an ultimately successful campaign to overturn the department hierarchy in favor of a more democratic rotating chairmanship. He retired from PSU with the rank of associate professor in 2010, and taught his last class as an emeritus professor in 2011.
Dr. Passell was involved in some of the major issues during of a turbulent era in Portland and American history. True to his professional and personal interest in ethics, he joined the chief liberal causes of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the Civil Rights movement and the antiwar movement. He and his first wife were active in The Society for New Action Politics, a cohort of academics, union workers and clergy representing the nonviolent faction of Portland’s Vietnam War opposition. He considered himself dispassionate, clear-headed and logical about most things, although as the years passed he sometimes looked back to acknowledge personal regrets and misjudgment.
Dr. Passell’s hobbies were sports and poetry. He took his children to PSU basketball games, gathered them to watch Mohammed Ali boxing matches, and hit pop-flies so his sons could practice their little league fielding skills. For as long as there was a Trailblazers basketball team, Dr. Passell was a Trailblazers fan. He sat in on PSU literature courses and scribbled many pages of his own verse. To judge by number of lines memorized, his favorite poets were Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare and Wallace Stevens.
He is survived by three children: Sarah, of Danbury, Connecticut; Josh, of Watertown, Massachusetts; and Leah, of Portland; four grandchildren: Nicholas and Eliza Passell, and Hannah and Nora Laymon; and an older brother, Lawrence A. Passell, of Shoreham, N.Y. His oldest child, Seth, pre-deceased him in 2007. Cremation will be followed by the private scattering of his ashes. There are no calling hours.
—Written by Leah and Sarah Passell