Retired Fresno State political science professor David Provost, known by many as a great conversationalist who loved to talk about politics and current events, died early Saturday in Fresno, said his son, Stephen Provost.
Mr. Provost, 86, was hospitalized twice in recent months and succumbed in part to pneumonia, his son said.
Born in 1930, Mr. Provost earned his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College and also studied in Australia, earning both his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the same time.
“He turned in his thesis and they asked, do you want this to qualify you toward your Ph.D.?” Stephen Provost said. “Of course he said yes.”
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Mr. Provost started his teaching career at Pepperdine University in Southern California, eventually making his way to Fresno State while it was still transitioning to Shaw Avenue from its old location, now occupied by Fresno City College. He also worked in the CSU chancellor’s office for six years as dean of new program development and was a chairman in the academic Senate at Fresno State for a time, according to his son.
Lynnette Zelezny, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State, said Mr. Provost “made a difference in the lives of countless students” during his four-decade tenure. “His dedication to students and keen political insights were legendary on campus,” she said.
He ran for Assembly in 1962 as a Republican, losing, but just narrowly, his son said. His slogan was “A tall man for a tall job,” in reference to Mr. Provost’s height of 6-foot-8.
Stephen Provost recalls his father towering over his 5-foot-2 wife, whom he met while they were both working at Douglas Aircraft in Southern California before he began teaching. Shortly before he lost the election in 1962, his wife, Lorelei, surprised him with the news that they were expecting. Stephen Provost was the couple’s only child, due to complications Lorelei Provost suffered from having polio in her childhood.
They were married for 39 years until her death at age 63. Mr. Provost never remarried, and he still spoke lovingly of her, even in the moments leading up to his passing. “He used to say she was the best thing that ever happened to him,” his son recalled.
Mr. Provost co-authored a textbook on California politics, eventually taking over the updated editions when the other author died. “When people say ‘he wrote the book on it,’ he literally did,” said David Schecter, a former Fresno State professor who was hired to work with Mr. Provost in 2001 before he retired.
Schecter kept in touch with Mr. Provost, recently visiting him in a nursing home where they talked about politics and current events. “I’m honored to follow in his footsteps and to have been mentored by him for several years,” Schecter said. “He was a well-rounded scholar and intellectual, and will be missed greatly.”
Stephen Provost said he tapped into his father’s knowledge of Fresno in the ’60s and ’70s for his own book, but he wasn’t the only one who benefited from Mr. Provost’s expertise.
Jim Boren, The Bee’s executive editor, said Mr. Provost was a key source for him when he was The Bee’s political writer, helping him make sense of the local political scene. “He was a thoughtful analyst who could recite the political landscape of Fresno going back to the 1950s,” Boren said.
Mr. Provost often wrote for The Bee’s opinion pages on politics, where one of his themes was compromise. Stephen Provost said his father had become aware of a change taking place in politics, that parties were no longer willing to compromise, which he disagreed with. One of his headlines in 2012 read, “Politics has to be about compromise.”
Even toward the end of his life, Mr. Provost was loquacious, according to his son. “He was a great guy to talk to about politics or sports. We used to go to basketball games together, Fresno State football.” Stephen Provost said his father appeared on local radio and TV stations as a political commentator. “He always enjoyed elections. He was a Republican, but he was an interesting guy. I would describe him as extremely liberal on some issues.”
Provost described his father as a supportive, caring man. “He was a big inspiration in my life. He always said, ‘As long as you have a sense of humor, you’ll be OK.’ I’m going to miss him.”
Born: June 20, 1930
Died: Aug. 6, 2016
Profession: Retired political science professor at Fresno State
Survivors: Son, Stephen Provost of Cambria
Services: None planned at this time