Surface, original faculty member of Owen Graduate School of Management, dies

James R. Surface (photo courtesy of the Surface family)

James R. Surface, professor of management, emeritus, at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management and a former executive vice chancellor and provost of the university, died Aug. 1 in Nashville. He was 92.

Surface was instrumental in planning the expansion of Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Management in its early years and helping the school gain a more secure financial base.

Appointed in 1975 by Chancellor Alexander Heard to head a task force analyzing the fledgling school’s future, Surface presented options to Vanderbilt’s Board of Trust for expanding the school in varying degrees or closing it altogether. His proposal to expand faculty, students and physical space moderately over six years funded by a new $7.5 million endowment was approved by the board and kept the school open.

Surface also was responsible, along with Heard, for personally recruiting Samuel B. Richmond in 1976 to serve as the school’s second dean.

Surface was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from the University of Kansas, and an MBA and doctorate from Harvard Business School, where he taught for eight years. He returned to the University of Kansas to serve as dean of its School of Business and vice chancellor of the university before being recruited to Vanderbilt by founding dean of the Graduate School of Management Igor Ansoff in 1969. As one of the school’s original faculty members, Surface’s specialties were general management and organizational development.

At Vanderbilt, he was promoted to executive vice chancellor in 1972 and became provost and executive vice president in 1975. He returned to full-time teaching at Owen in 1978, focusing on business policy, administration and managerial problem solving. Surface’s lifelong love of literature also led him to develop an elective course, “The Businessman in Literature,” which used novels by Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, John Updike and others to explore business ethics. He retired from Vanderbilt in 1986.

Surface was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Mary, who died in 1995; and his second wife of 10 years, Fifi, who died in 2006.

Survivors include daughter Mary Lu Gallaudet (Denison); four sons, Richard Surface (Stephanie), Daniel Surface (Aileen), John Surface, and Tom Surface (Elizabeth); 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

The family is planning a memorial service for September. In lieu of flowers, they request that gifts be made to The James and Mary Surface Memorial Flower Fund at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. The fund provides fresh flowers for display during performances at Blair. Gifts can be mailed to:

The James and Mary Surface Memorial Flower Fund
Vanderbilt University Gift Processing Office
PMB 407727
2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240-7727