Eugene Dais

Eugene Elbert Dais

Tuesday, July 5th, 1932 - Monday, April 27th, 2020
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Obituary for Professor Emeritus Dr. Eugene Elbert Dais

Despite a strong and principled opening address, Professor Emeritus Eugene (Gene) Elbert Dais yielded the floor to a persistent and pernicious adversary, COVID-19, on April 27, 2020.

Gene was born in Redding, California on July 5, 1932 to Elma Esma (Dick) Dais and Eugene Luther Dais. From an early age, he demonstrated a great desire to read, borrowing books from the judge who lived next door. He was also an active child and teen playing a number of team sports at Redding’s Shasta High School graduating in 1950. As a high school student, Gene played with his player/manager father on a men’s winter league baseball team and proudly recalled playing against a touring team with legendary African-American pitcher Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige. While at the University of California at Berkeley for his undergraduate arts degree, Gene played on the varsity basketball team. His fondest memory was playing against another legend, Bill Russell, who was a member of the UC San Francisco squad at the time and went on to a championship NBA career. During this time, Gene participated in Berkeley’s Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) and made extra money bartending for a sorority. Upon graduation in 1954, his interest in becoming a lawyer helped him land a military service role with the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps of the United States Army. He told his family his job was to search for Nazi “Brown Shirts” who were responsible for Hitler’s rise to power, hiding out in America.

He went on to attend Harvard Law School, where he attained his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. While there, he fell in love with and married his musically-talented wife, Dorothy Ann (Horsefield) Dais of Needham, Massachusetts. Upon graduation in 1959, he accepted an associate professorship at Johns Hopkins University where he taught Political Science for 7 years until lured to the “Great White North” with the opportunity to help establish the first Law School at the University of Calgary. He became a member of the Law Society of Alberta in 1979. His name appears on the wall of the Faculty of Law building as a “Founder” – a meaningful moniker given his academic interest in the Founding Fathers of Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence. One would be remiss to not also mention his abiding commitment to the teachings of the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who taught, “one ought to think autonomously, free of the dictates of external authority”. Gene acknowledged that Monty Python thought Kant was a “real pissant” (See the Philosopher’s Song skit). Over the years, many students passed through Professor Dais’ classes, which also included Trusts, and interestingly, Land Use Planning. He was always delighted to explain that the superior subdivision design of Calgary’s newest neighborhoods, including Varsity Village where he lived in the same house for 50 years, was based on the first planned subdivision in Canada, constructed in the community of Don Mills in Toronto.

One of his former students had this to say about Gene: “Gene Dais was known to his students by two epic nicknames: Dr. Death and Mean Gene. In truth, he was neither. He was an old-school legal intellectual who brought the rigour of a Socratic education to the classroom and never apologized for it. He loved the law and his eyes would twinkle with a moment of joy when a student had done the work and knew the answer. He could be unrelenting when they did not. He expected his charges to do the work, grasp the detail and come to a reasoned understanding - the classic virtues of lawyering. And that was Gene Dais - a classicist and a classic himself. The knowledge and discipline he imparted will live in the legal profession in this country for decades to come.”

His love of writing and teaching provided him great opportunities to travel to various places around the world as a member of the World Congress of Philosophy. The family remembers fondly summer vacations spent in Redding with Gene’s extended family. A favorite memory were the 3 on 3 basketball challenges, Dais clan versus Gilbreath clan. Dais clan typically won, although the last year there was some controversy. A winner could not be declared. Awards were provided though, including a button provided to Gene which read “I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken”.

Gene taught well into his late 70’s as Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary. During this time, he continued to earnestly and steadfastly develop his book, DVD and record album collections. Gene was able to enjoy his collections until last fall, thanks to the unwavering help of Tracy Snell, Chuck Sunberg and especially Nicole Norton. The decline in Gene’s health in his last years did not dull his verbal and intellectual sparring skills, which he continued to hone in contests with his exceptional medical team, Dr. Rodney Place, Dr. David Keegan and Doreen Nasr (of Hillcrest Extendicare). Sadly, COVID-19 prevailed in this final contest of wills.

The family is grateful to the caring attention of the Hillcrest Extendicare team, who took turns sitting with Gene in his final hours since families, during this pandemic, were prohibited entry to the facility. Although he missed being home with his treasured miniature schnauzer Fritzie, Gene made many friends at Hillcrest (he specifically mentioned Donna) and was the happiest the family had seen him in years.

Gene is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughters, Julia Dais (Craig Smith) of Oyama, British Columbia and Jacqueline Dais-Visca (Rick Visca) of Toronto, Ontario, as well as four grandchildren (Charles Smith, Katie Smith, Madeleine Visca, and Thomas Visca). Gene was the eldest of four children. He was predeceased by his brother, Terry Dais, and is survived by his sister, Deanna Gilbreath of Redding, California, and brother, Gregory Dais of Visalia, California, and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, great grandnieces and great grandnephews.

If Professor Dais was given one last opportunity to teach us before passing, we have no doubt he would have wanted to quote Will Rogers to remind us “When you’re through learning, you’re through”. His message to book worms everywhere was if you run out of book shelf space, there is always the stairs.

At the end, Gene and COVID-19 agreed on one thing – no funeral service. In lieu of flowers, and in consideration of his inexplicable joy at the sound of barking schnauzers, the family encourages you to donate to your local animal shelter in his memory. Gene’s adoration of dogs, which passion he passed down to his daughters and grandchildren, was second only to his love of the law and teaching. He will be missed but his commitment and values live on, especially in the lives and work of the students he influenced, and in his scholarship.

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Robert Hallett;

Posted at 03:57pm
Gene taught me Trusts and also Land Use Planning in 1986/87. Trusts was reported to he hard and esoteric and not recommended for an easy grade with Gene at the helm but I took it regardless as the subject matter appealed to me. Gene managed to take a complicated area of the law like Trusts and make it interesting and show why it was important to master the concepts. It was a mix of fear at first and later as he sparked my interest worked harder to do well, inspired by him. The next year I took Land Use Planning and I remember he invited a City of Calgary Alderman to come talk to us one day. Gene let the man speak for 20 minutes then started questioning him about the intricacies of the Calgary Land Use bylaw in a detailed, probing manner about some of the inconsistencies inherent in the text . It was clear that the poor Alderman was in over his head and just wanted to exit as he could not answer Gene's barrage of questions. I suspect that even the drafter of the bylaw did not think through the details the way Gene had done. Gene was polite but the message was clear to me. Know your subject matter and prepare in advance, a message that all young professionals need to learn. I thought he was a great Prof and and sorry for your loss. Rob Hallett, Houston, TX

Ian Holloway

Posted at 12:07pm
On behalf of everyone at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary, I want to convey my deepest condolences. Gene was here - literally - before we were here. He chaired the university committee which set up the law school. And then he became one of our most stalwart faculty members right up until his retirement. I was blessed to have gotten to know him a decade or so ago, and I cherished all of our contact over the years. Vale, Gene. You are missed by all of your old friends. Your legacy will live forever.

Ian Holloway
Dean of Law
The University of Calgary

Daniel Charlebois

Posted at 11:26am
Beautifully written obituary befitting a great man. I would like to express my sincere condolences to the family. I am Stephanie Charlebois son and I was his neighbour for several years while I lived at home while attending the University of Calgary as an undergraduate student. In fact, Prof. Dais came to my party when I graduated from the University of Calgary! Now a professor myself, I can appreciate that he was a truly an academic in every sense of the word (and I recall often seeing the light to his study on until the early hours of the morning!). Daniel Charlebois (Faculty of Science, University of Alberta)

Stephanie Charlebois

Posted at 10:53am
I have been a neighbour of Prof. Dais for the past 18 years. However I knew him first from Law School, 1992- 95.

After I became aware of his reputation for teaching Constitutional Law (I.e. Dr. death no less), I felt fortunate that I had been assigned to M. Hughes’ section for that course as not only was Constitutional Law my least favourite subject but I ended up being his neighbour! I never told him that.

In the earlier days when Prof. Dais could walk, we on several occasions met at the fence and it soon became clear that he loved to talk about the Law and the philosophy of Law and his dogs.

Later on walking became difficult for him. One evening Prof. Dais locked himself out of the house and I went over to assist, which meant following clear instructions how to get the spare key, then enter the house through a side door to get to the patio door where it would be easy for him to come in. However between those two doors were two Schnauzer guard dogs growling and barking at me which Gene assured me were all bark and no bite. I am a cat person so it took a bit of convincing.

I will miss my neighbour whose light was on all night while I am sure he poured over his many books and papers with a glass of scotch, but not those yappy, barking dogs! To the end, Prof. Dais was a gentleman, a true independent spirit and he lived by his

Stephanie G. Charlebois
Class of ‘95

Ted Kelly

Posted at 06:35pm
My condolences to the family of Gene Dais for their loss of an exceptionally decent man. I took only one class from him, and years later I was visiting the new law school with a partner and bumped into Gene. "I want to introduce you to Gene Dais who game me a C in Trusts." Gene's expression brightened immediately and he replied, "Yes, but that was back when a C really meant something. With grade inflation today, it would a B." He wore the Doctor Death label with a certain kind of pride, but at his heart, Professor Dais was a softie. He graded hard, but to my knowledge in my years from '77 to '80, I don't believe he ever failed a student. As Harold Jacques noted Gene was a professor who could have been a life long mentor, and now having read his obituary I now have two compelling questions I'd like to pose: how did it feel to stand in the batter box facing Satchel Paige, and how could any sane person find "inexplicable joy at the sound of barking schnauzers?" Perhaps one day I will bump into him in the hereafter and we'll discuss it. Warmest thoughts to family. Ted Kelly, class of '80.

Julie Dais Posted at 10:23pm

Ted thank you very much for these lovely remarks. In regards to #1: regrettably he took the answer to that question with him to his grave. And as for question # 2, any "rational" person would have to conclude he was hard of hearing. His neighbors however, were NOT hard of hearing!

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