Driggs, influential political science professor, passes away

For more than three decades, Don Driggs influenced scores of students

Driggs, influential political science professor, passes away

For more than three decades, Don Driggs influenced scores of students

The University of Nevada, Reno campus was one of the centers of Don Driggs' life.

And even after Driggs retired from his work as a professor of political science in 1988, he never really left the campus for good.  No time was this more in evidence than Sept. 17, 2010.

Driggs, a former chair and emeritus professor of political science, walked his old campus with his son, Chris on a day that was like so many Septembers during his tenure at the University of Nevada, Reno, from 1956-88.

The sun was high and hot that day. Even in the heat, there was a simple, comfortable sense of familiarity - of shared experience - between the father and the son as they visited Driggs' old department in the Mack Social Science Building, and later, as they made the walk in the early evening up the hill to Mackay Stadium to watch the Wolf Pack play the Cal Bears.

In the stillness and relative quiet of that warm September, trudging together up the hill to Mackay Stadium, there were the whispers of how it had always been for father and son.

"Dad was a huge fan of sports," remembered Chris, a University graduate in history. "When I was a boy, and all the way through high school and college, we'd go to all the Wolf Pack games together. We started going to games in the Old Gym in the '60s, the games in the '70s at the Centennial Coliseum, in the '80s at Lawlor ... and all the football games at Mackay.

"It was a great way to spend time together ... so much of what Dad did had the University at its center."

It was important for Don Driggs, who in 2010 was 86 years old, to return to the campus to not only revisit his old office and his old campus, but to also see the Nevada Wolf Pack's fleet-footed, dart-throwing senior quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, in action.

That September night Kaepernick and his Wolf Pack teammates, on their way to a 13-1 season, did not disappoint. They thoroughly dominated a talented Cal squad, 52-31. Kaepernick bolted like a deer all evening over the Mackay FieldTurf, rushing for 148 yards, passing for 181 more and accounting for five touchdowns.

"Dad wanted to see Colin play, so we went to the game that night," Chris remembered. "We walked all around campus during the day. As it turned out, it was the last time Dad was ever on the University campus."

Driggs, who was considered one of the most influential political science professors to ever teach at the University, passed away on Dec. 16 in Arizona, where he had retired, at the age of 90. Driggs, in addition to being one of the campus' finest teachers, was a former department chair, supervised the University's legislative intern program and prepared what is still considered by many to be the most comprehensive annotated edition of the Nevada Constitution (1961's "The Constitution of the State Nevada: A Commentary").

A campus memorial service celebrating Driggs' life and career at the University will be held on Feb. 17.

Colleagues, friends, and former students were universal in their praise of Driggs. The roll of Driggs' former students reads like a Who's Who of Nevada politics, including former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, former GOP National Party Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Cobb and his brother, former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for National Security Affairs, Tyrus "Ty" Cobb.

Said Bryan, who graduated from the University in 1959: "I took many classes from Don. He came to Nevada as a young, dynamic professor who I was privileged to get to know on a personal level as ASUN President."

Bryan continued, "Don was still in the Air Force Reserve when he came to the University and would appear in uniform when he had Reserve meetings. Young and handsome, he always stood out in the academic parade of peacocks at graduation in his Crimson Harvard doctoral grown.

"He was a wonderful man. I enjoyed every class he taught and every moment I spent with him talking about Nevada politics."

Nevada Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty recalled Driggs' personal warmth, as well as the profound influence Driggs had on his students.

"I was saddened to learn of Don's passing," Hardesty said. "When I heard the news, I immediately saw Don in my mind - a warm, inviting man with a gentle smile and an incredible intellect. He was an extraordinary person, an inspiring professor, a caring human being and a man who made a difference in the lives - including mine - of so many."

Added another former student who would become a U.S. Congressman from Nevada, James Santini: "Don was one of my most impressive political science/government professors. First and foremost, he tolerated my illegible script in his little blue test books."

Said Bill Cobb, a former Nevada Regent and current U.S. Magistrate Judge: "Although I was an economics major, I managed to take some poly sci classes, and a few from Don Driggs. Don was one of those memorable professors who had a profound and positive impact on my education."

Joe Crowley, a colleague of Driggs' in the Department of Political Science beginning in 1966 and later University President from 1978-2001, recalled Driggs' common personal decency and untiring ability to always know the value of "keeping the peace."

"Don was just terrific," Crowley said of Driggs' time as department chair. "I think he very clearly realized that for the department to get ahead - and of course in any academic department of any size there are always going to be tensions, personality differences, or worse - we all needed to get along. Don understood very well that if you wanted to do all the right things with teaching and research, the only way it was going to happen was if we kept peace in the family.

"Peace was Priority No. 1 with him. It was very clear that he was the man in charge, and that was what we were expected to do. It's a rare skill when you think about it. Don could make it work because he was so well-respected and was such a likeable guy. I don't ever recall him being angry. He always kept the peace. He knew how to bring people together. It made the people better, and it made the department better."

Crowley recalled that Driggs had been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago. "Don was a 'moderate' Democrat," Crowley said. Yet Driggs' students, whether they were Republican or Democrat, revered their professor for his meticulous preparation (Chris Driggs said his father kept every grade book from every semester he ever taught at the University) and his impassioned belief that political process and participation were not just ideals but the foundational underpinnings of the success of any modern society.

"His love of the political system and the constitutions of the United States and of Nevada was readily apparent," said Ty Cobb, a student in the early 1960s. "Don always brought such enthusiasm to his classes. After class, he would always encourage you to drop by his office to talk some more." Then Cobb paused, perhaps remembering those friendly conversations about political parties and political process, where the professor would encourage students to have a cup of coffee and sit down for more discussion. "Don was certainly one of the primary influences who steered me toward domestic and international politics," he added.

Driggs' many achievements at the University included directing the University's legislative internship program, which landed many of the institution's finest students in Carson City and Washington, D.C., where they were able to experience the legislative process first-hand. For many years, many pre-law students received program advice from the Department of Political Science, and Driggs was seen by many as the department's pre-eminent pre-law advisor.

Tom Lorentzen, a former student who would go on to have a distinguished career in statewide and national-level policy and politics, was one of the many beneficiaries of the program.

"I was one of them," Lorentzen said of the internship program. "That was how I first met a young state Senator by the name of Richard Bryan and a young Lieutenant Governor by the name of Harry Reid. It was an excellent way for someone like me to learn about the legislative process and to meet individuals that would have impact upon me for the rest of my life."

Lorentzen said Driggs was never one to forget a former student.

"It was because of Don's advice that I returned to graduate school at UNR at age 29 to earn an M.A. in political science. It was through his thoughtfulness and guidance that this happened," he said. "Not only was a lot learned in graduate school at UNR, but the learning and degree helped me greatly in the decades that followed."

Driggs was a graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. After serving a two-year mission, he went on to Harvard University, where he earned his master's and doctoral degrees in political science.

During the final years of his life, Driggs had moved to Chandler, Ariz., to be closer to his grandchildren. He is survived by daughters Deborah Calleros (Charles) and Pamela Driggs-Lubambo (Romero), and son Christopher (Joy); his grandchildren, Alex, Ben, and Luisa; and his siblings, Barbara, J. Robert, Dianne, Gloria, and Kenneth.

"Dad loved the University so much," Chris Driggs recalled. "He truly, truly did. He enjoyed being a professor, being a department chair, being a part of the service committees on campus and system-wide."

Chris remembered his father, early in his career, teaching as many as seven courses per semester.

"He'd read the night before for hours and hours just to stay ahead of his students," Chris said.

Even as Driggs took on more responsibilities outside of the classroom, he still continued to place a premium on teaching and the enjoyable interactions he often had with his students.

"Dad not only taught as many courses as he could, he always taught summer session and the 'Political Science 100' course - the state constitution course that teachers would take via correspondence. He would spend hours at night, grading their papers and their tests," Chris said. "He truly loved his teaching, and his students. He was so proud of the careers and the work that so many of them went on to do."

More than anything, though, as the days have passed since his father's passing, Chris said he has increasingly remembered the times the two, father and son, spent together, often on the University campus.

"It was a great way to grow up," Chris said. "I'll always be grateful for those times we spent together."

Not unlike the final time the father and son made their way up the hill to Mackay Stadium in fall 2010, a sort of golden early evening grace in the air, the swift rush of time having softened and slowed enough so that it would become something the son would always remember - the place where his father did so much, and meant so much, to so many people.





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