Fittingly, as management professor, Neil Young devotee and renowned good guy Erik Larson took the podium at his retirement celebration May 15, Young’s tour de force “Heart of Gold” poured forth from the sound system in the Robert Family Events Room.
“I want to live; I want to give,” Young sang. “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.”
That’s exactly what the College of Business collected back in 1980 when it lured a young scholar west from SUNY-Buffalo, the pairing working so well that Larson became something of a rarity: a professor whose entire career took place at one university.
“I’m proud to have worked at Oregon State and in this college,” Larson said. “And I’m really glad to have gotten to spend my last year here, in the house that Ilene built.”
A colleague of Dean Ilene Kleinsorge for nearly three decades, Larson chose for his final year at the university a corner, fourth-floor office at brand-new Austin Hall as an exclamation point after spending 34 years in the college’s former home, Bexell Hall.
“It’s up to you guys to make (Austin Hall) a home,” he told the dozens of faculty and staff who turned out to wish him a well – a crowd whose size surprised the unassuming project-management legend.
“I told my wife as we were driving over here, ‘I wonder if anybody will show up; it’s a Friday afternoon,’’ Larson said.
Fellow management professor Keith Leavitt emceed the event (and arranged for the Young soundtrack). Leavitt said Larson was defined by genuine concern for others exemplified by how he shielded young faculty from things they didn’t need to worry about and spoke with candor about the issues they did need to be concerned with.
“Erik will tell you exactly what’s on his mind,” Leavitt said. “And he embodies the culture of the College of Business: Performance should never sacrifice people. He’ll always remind you not to take yourself too seriously.”
In retirement, Larson plans to follow Young’s advice to keep on rockin’ in the free world – with an emphasis on the world part of that. He’s been to 45 countries and wants to visit another 45, likely teaching part time wherever his travels find him and his wife, Ann – whom he thanked from the podium for “putting up with me.”
“I don’t know how she does it,” Larson said, training his eyes on her in the crowd. “I love you.”