Economics professor remembered for dedication

Anna Lawson

Dick Cantrell called the Hill home for 47 years before he retired, nearly twice as long as many of the students that currently attend WKU have been alive. 

He did more than simply teach in his time at WKU. Faculty and students alike can attest to the fact that he inspired students until his very last day as a Hilltopper.

Cantrell died, last Wednesday, at age 75 after battling cancer. 

“He was very popular, no doubt about that,” Robert Pulsinelli, an economics professor and Cantrell’s colleague of nearly 50 years, said. “A very easy-going guy—never saw him angry. We were natural friends, and he had a really hard time leaving WKU.”

Pulsinelli remembered an instance in which Cantrell was able to come up with a entire paragraph that was a palindrome.  

“He is one of the smartest guys I’ve known,” Pulsinelli said. “Knowledgeable of not just econ, but he had an encyclopedic mind.”

Cantrell’s family noticed the impact he made while at WKU. His daughter Jennifer  said her family still runs into people who talk about him in high regards.

“He was profound,” she said. “I believe he was instrumental in shaping the direction and philosophy of the economics department.”

Jennifer Cantrell said her father left behind a legacy of academic discipline. She said her family is profoundly impacted forever by him. He leaves behind four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

Jennifer Cantrell said growing up she had every intention of being a great conductor or broadway performer. However, when she was in high school, her father told her to consider going into law school. When Jennifer Cantrell went to college, she decided to change her major and got a degree in archeology. Then, her senior year of college, she took her father’s advice and went to law school.

“I have been a successful attorney ever since,” she said. “I didn’t go to law school because he said it. I went because I realized that when he said I would be good at it he was right. He had a way of seeing people’s strengths and weaknesses and applying them to the real world.”

Being involved in economics at WKU, Dick Cantrell had a knack for money and banking. He worked at Lewisburg banking company where he was chairman of the board since 2004. Billy Bingham, the president of Lewisburg Banking Company, said that he is still in shock over the loss. 

“He was very wise and a visionary leader,” he said. “He was a good friend of mine. He was an outstanding family man.”

Pulsinelli said that he, as well as his colleagues, all learned a lot from him, as did his students. Michelle Trawick, associate dean of the Gordon Ford College of Business, had Cantrell as a professor in the 1980s and said he was brilliant. 

“He was very intelligent and a gifted speaker,” she said. “He was just a really neat guy. It’s hard to explain exactly.”

Trawick said he was a traditional professor in that he was very engaged with his students and very interested in making sure they learned and were thoughtful. 

“We all learned a lot from him,” Pulsinelli said. “He was just a really bright guy.”