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Eckerd professor, Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Dudley DeGroot dies at 85

ST. PETERSBURG — Students at Eckerd College knew Dudley DeGroot as the brick-shaped anthropology professor who pedaled a bicycle to his book-crammed office, where he worked on a hand-carved wooden stool he had picked up in Suriname.

Triton basketball players noted his near-prefect attendance at games, where he yelled pithy encouragements from the bleachers. Others had known him variously as a small-town mayor; or as a rear admiral in the Navy Reserve, recalled to active duty during two wars; or an adviser to the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. Because the military continued to use Dr. DeGroot in intelligence work through the first Gulf War, much of what he did remains hidden.

Dr. DeGroot, an early influence on Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd) who helped shape the school's anthropology and sociology curriculum and created its management program, died Dec. 7 after an extended illness. He was 85.

"Dudley knew more about more subjects than anyone I have ever known in my life," Carolyn Johnston, an American studies professor at Eckerd, told friends and family who gathered Saturday at Westminster Suncoast. "He was not only a mayor, a football player, an anthropologist — he started the management department, the sociology department. He was a spy, he was James Bond. He was fluent in Arabic. We don't even know half of the things he was doing."

His work took him to underdeveloped countries; what he saw there worried him. In a 1969 guest column for the Times, he correctly warned that world population (then at 3 billion) would double by 2000, as food supplies dwindled. As preventive measures, Dr. DeGroot recommended sweeping birth control programs. "If this proposal sounds a bit too logical and sensible, it probably is," Dr. DeGroot wrote.

Dudley Edward DeGroot was born in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1927. He enlisted in the Navy at 17 and served on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. The association with the Navy and its Reserves lasted 42 years. After the war, he played football at West Virginia University and was chosen to the All East team in 1948. He earned a doctorate from Ohio State University and married Sally Stroup in the early 1950s. He was teaching at Rollins College in Winter Park when he decided to run for mayor of nearby Maitland, enlisting the help of a spunky homemaker named Paula Hawkins.

Hawkins, who would go on to the U.S. Senate, campaigned for Dr. DeGroot's then-controversial plan to replace septic tanks with a sewer system.

He joined what was then Florida Presbyterian College in 1964, where he taught a popular human sexuality course and the school's first management course, an outgrowth of his years moonlighting as a State Farm consultant.

In the mid 1970s, Dr. DeGroot assigned a class to identify and challenge a deeply held (or "emic") cultural belief. One group responded by creating a tribal society, culminating their project with the ritual slaughter of a chicken. "The next day, students called for Dudley's resignation," recalled former student Suzanne Dameron, now a Sarasota public relations consultant. "Our group was ostracized; nobody would talk to us for days."

Dr. DeGroot laughed off the furor his students had created, Dameron recalled. "He said, 'You were successful. You challenged their emic values.' "

He gave each student involved an A-plus.

Meanwhile, Dr. DeGroot kept a hand in the political world. For several years in the 1970s, he served as chairman of the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children. The military recalled him to active duty twice. He debriefed returning soldiers and prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. The government later sent him to an Arabic language immersion program.

"He spent a lot of time at MacDill (U.S. Central Command) during the Gulf (War) era," said Neil DeGroot, his son. "He has medals for we don't know what."

Dr. DeGroot's first marriage ended in divorce. In 1996 he married Jeanette Crane during a cruise stopover in Christchurch, New Zealand.

A few years ago, his family created a scholarship for student-athletes in Dr. DeGroot's name. Triton basketball players will remember him for the duration of the season with a commemorative "D" stitched onto their jerseys.