Obituary — Robert S. Holbrook


Robert S. Holbrook, former associate provost and professor emeritus of economics in LSA, died May 15 at the age of 88 after a life of distinguished scholarship and service to the University of Michigan.

Robert S. Holbrook
Robert S. Holbrook

Holbrook was born June 30, 1932. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 from the University of San Francisco and his Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in 1964 and 1965, respectively, from the University of California, Berkeley. He came to U-M as an assistant professor of economics in 1965 and was promoted to associate professor in 1970 and professor in 1975. 

Holbrook was a generous mentor to many. Jim Adams, Shorey Peterson Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of economics, wrote, “In 1973, when I joined the Department of Economics, Bob Holbrook reached out, immediately and warmly, to help me navigate the challenges facing a new member of the junior faculty. It was both easy and instructive to watch him in action administratively, first within the department and then at LSA and in the Provost’s Office. I attribute Bob’s longevity as an administrator to his distinctive and impressive combination of clarity, rigor, independence, and fairness. He knew how to focus on the right problems. He also knew how to select the right solutions.” 

Holbrook departed academic economics for academic administration in the late 1970s, serving as associate dean in LSA from 1978-81. What was initially to have been a quick stint of service turned into a nearly two-decades-long career of exceptional distinction, in which economics lost someone special, to the benefit of the entire university community.

In 1981, Holbrook was appointed associate vice president for academic affairs in the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He served in a number of administrative appointments, including interim vice president for academic affairs, interim provost and associate provost. Bob served as primary budgetary adviser to five provosts over 17 years in Academic Affairs and worked tirelessly to ensure that academic priorities were appropriately driving both budgetary and financial decisions. 

 “As associate provost for budget, Bob was a vigorous champion of the idea that the U-M would be best served by a budget and budgeting system that was organized to bring resources first and foremost to academic activities,” said Paul Courant, Edward M. Gramlich Distinguished University Professor of Economics and Public Policy Emeritus, provost emeritus, Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy Emeritus, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor emeritus of information. “He was the principal adviser to a number of provosts, notably including Billy Frye, Jim Duderstadt, and Gil Whitaker. Gil once told me that when he was offered the provost job, the first thing he did was make sure that Bob would be willing to stay on as associate provost for budget.”

Holbrook retired from active faculty status Jan. 31, 2000. In addition to his distinguished academic career, Bob will be remembered for his major contributions to the development and restructuring of the U-M budget.

— Submitted by the Office of the Provost and Executive President for Academic Affairs


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