David K. Backus, 63, died on June 12, 2016, following a short, hard-fought battle with leukemia. A renowned international economist, beloved educator and mentor, and cherished husband, father, son and brother – he will be terribly missed.
Dave was born in Cincinnati, spent his early years in Buffalo, and grew up in Pittsburgh where he built the ties – not to mention the team loyalties– that he would carry with him the rest of his life. It was also where he found his first love, and future wife, Marilyn. Although the couple went their separate ways after high school, they remained friends, and – to the surprise of even themselves – found themselves in love again, this time for good, in 1987, after Marilyn spent a week visiting her old pal in Vancouver. They were married in 1988. After a brief period of commuter marriage between Minneapolis (Dave) and NYC (Marilyn), Dave joined the faculty of the Stern School of Business at New York University, and moved to New York City. He quickly adapted to the urban lifestyle, pleased to shed his car, parking, and to enjoy the bustle and round the clock services of the city that never sleeps.
Dave’s devotion to Marilyn was complete. To share their happiness, he and Marilyn soon started a family. They thought they knew what fun was. But it was their children, Paul and Melanie, who taught them what fun really is. Dave loved being a father. Whatever activity or interest engaged the kids- whether watching the entire Buffy the Vampire series with the family, devising the “tour de Pocono” for long bike trips with Paul, or checking out all the new female singer-songwriters with Mel - he was down for it and considered himself the clear winner for the effort. He felt himself to be a lucky guy.
Dave loved music and the Pittsburgh teams; the typical Dave outfit at family events was a Pirates or Steelers t-shirt. Dave visited his mother and extended family in Philadelphia frequently – joking that he was competing with his sisters for the ‘favorite child’ title. He may have captured the prize when he took his mother to Switzerland for AFS son Ruedi’s 60th birthday.
Dave was the consummate modern academic. He loved research, teaching, and students. He was also a skilled leader who valued and strengthened the culture of academic institutions. He pioneered a new approach to international macroeconomics, infusing it with tools from finance. His approach shapes the profession’s understanding of credibility and monetary policy, exchange rate behavior and international finance. His work on asset markets helped lay the foundation for the thriving new research area at the intersection of macroeconomics and finance.
In addition to being an intellectual leader at the Stern School, where he taught for more than 25 years and held the Heinz Riehl Professorship in International Economics and Finance, Dave served for seven years as the Vice Dean for Faculty and as Chair of the Economics Department and the Accounting Department. Dave was much loved by his colleagues and by generations of Stern students for his strength of character, his generosity and kindness, and his sharp wit. Dave was a gifted teacher. Driven by his own deep intellectual curiosity, he developed and spearheaded many visionary courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. Prior to joining Stern in 1990, Dave taught at Queen's University and the University of British Columbia, and served at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
In his personal as well as his professional life, Dave always emphasized, and excelled at, bringing people together. He shed hierarchy and formality in favor of inclusiveness and comraderie– preferably over a beer – whether the occasion was Friday “office hours” at the Malthouse, an outing to a jazz session, or an invitation to his home whenever the Steelers made the playoffs. He was outgoing, engaging, and, most of all, happy.
Dave is survived by his wife Marilyn Jason, his children Paul and Melanie Backus, his mother Marjorie Backus, and his sisters and brother Lois Backus, Laura Hoffman, Ruth Grillo, and Rudolf Ramsauer.