Robert (Bob) Haveman passed away last week surrounded by his family in Madison, Wisconsin. Bob played a key part in my life and was a great mentor, teacher, and friend.
I met Bob in my last semester of college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I only needed to finish a few credits to earn my degree after which I would take a nine month break and then start graduate school. Bob was looking for a research assistant to help him on a variety of research projects centered on poverty, income inequality, and human capital generation.
I met with Bob several times a week in his office at the top of the La Follette building on the Wisconsin campus. The La Follette building is at the top of a hill near the Social Science building and is basically a big old house. Bob’s office was in the top floor and had these sloping ceilings and a great view of the lake. There were stacks of papers along the floor with cards above each one naming each project—it was a strategy I used for many years.
Bob taught me how to conduct research and how to actually apply the statistics I learned in classes and coursework. He showed me how to assemble a data set—this was in the days before you could just go to the website for the Economic Report of the President and download a big data file. I had to manually type—and triple-check—the data as I moved it from the paper book into the computer. He encouraged me to call government agencies and find missing or incomplete data sets—something that he would also tease me about years later saying that I was never afraid to get on the phone with someone I had never met and ask for help finding some obscure data series.
He always had a smile on his face. Looking back, I think that sometimes he wore a wry smile knowing there was something he was teaching me that I didn’t even know I was learning—a kind of inside joke that only he knew and that came with age and experience. He never lost his cool with me, even after I made an error or didn’t understand something I probably should have. He just kept supporting me and pushing me to do the best job I could.
In the first paper we wrote together—the first academic paper I ever wrote—he taught me how to write for research, how to work through the editing and review processes, and how to frame an economics argument. These are things that many just take for granted, but they take time, effort, and patience.
Bob was also a big sports fan. For a time, he was involved in the sports administration at the University. When the Badgers made the Rose Bowl in January of 1999 and I failed to get tickets, he was able to get a pair for me. He apologized that they weren’t great tickets and were somewhere in the student section. When I got to the game, I found the seats were right next to him and his family, on the 50 yard line, a few rows behind Ron Dayne’s family and a few rows in front of Governor Tommy Thompson.
When I left Wisconsin for Baltimore and then Syracuse, Bob was always someone I could lean on for support and feedback. We continued to work together through the first couple of years after I left Madison, culminating in our book on human capital. Each year I would return to Madison for the UW Institute for Research on Poverty conference on poverty to talk about life, work, and economics. He would always invite me over to dinner at his home with his wife Bobbi and other luminaries in the field—he always made me feel like a colleague, not a student or research assistant.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob for his mentorship and friendship over these many years. He looked out for me during some tough times in graduate school and in the early part of my career. He offered advice whenever needed and was a big fan of my work, be it in economics or in data visualization.
It goes without saying that I will miss Bob. He embodied the friendly, welcoming spirit of Madison and academic life on Lake Mendota.