Capping off 34 years: Retirement is a Grey area for outgoing provost

As he wraps up the last few weeks of his tenure, UC Davis’ seemingly tireless provost and executive vice chancellor, Bob Grey, is staying busy as usual on major campus projects.

He’s checking on the progress of new academic initiatives such as the Genomics Center and the Graduate School of the Environment, meeting with deans to discuss faculty recruitment and briefing his successor, Ginger Hinshaw of the University of Wisconsin.

But what Grey isn’t doing for once is taking on new responsibilities as the campus’s chief academic and financial officer.

The architect of UC Davis’ new Academic Plan, initiatives such as the Center for Genomics and Informatics, population biology and neuroscience, and the Division of Biological Sciences says it’s time to slow down. After eight years as provost and previous service as dean of biological sciences and associate dean of the College of Letters and Science, Grey, 61, will step down from full-time campus work July 1. He announced his planned resignation in December and said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef has known of his intention for two years.

"I’m getting a little tired, and there are some other things I want to do," Grey said.

Grey, who first joined the UC Davis faculty in 1967 as an assistant professor of zoology, isn’t retiring, however. Nor will he be moving far away from the place and the people he says have brought him so much joy over the years.

Instead, Grey will embark on a six-month sabbatical at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. As provost he also served as chief governance officer at the medical center. "It’s an opportunity to reflect and think now that I have some time," Grey said.

During the sabbatical, he and trauma center director and surgery professor David Wisner will study ways the UC Davis health system – solid financially in the era of managed care – can give higher precedence to academics. Grey and Wisner aim to provide the medical center with a conceptual framework for a working plan.

"If we can find one, two or three things we can do to ensure that research and teaching are restored to the highest priority, I’ll be pleased," Grey said.

Joseph Silva, dean of the School of Medicine, said Grey’s experience as both a biologist and a medical center administrator will be a significant asset to the project. "He’s heard on a monthly basis this debate over health care delivery, dollar flow and other issues. He has a wonderful background."

During his sabbatical Grey also plans to delve into a "long list of hobbies I’ve put on hold." That includes spending time with his grandchildren, gardening and pumping out tunes on the two keyboard organs he keeps at his homes in Davis and Jenner, along the Russian River in Sonoma County.

"It’s great fun," Grey said. "I love to play."

He and his wife, Kathleen, a program director at the Early Childhood Laboratory at UC Davis, also plan to travel to a family reunion in Kansas – the couple’s home state – and to England.

Colleagues, including ophthalmology and biology professor Larry Hjelmeland, say they will miss Grey’s day-to-day presence on campus. Hjelmeland, who also works as Grey’s faculty assistant, appreciated the way the provost has sought his input on key university issues such as the partnership with The Jackson Laboratory.

Along with witnessing his work ethic, Hjelmeland has also gotten to know Grey’s oft-hidden wry sense of humor over long lunches and exchanges of New Yorker cartoons.

"I agree with his vision of the future," Hjelmeland said. "I can have these conversations as well as ones on the best single malt whiskeys or a satire on a Buddhist sutra I wrote in graduate school."

Grey won’t be gone from the campus action for too long, however. After his sabbatical is complete, he will serve as a temporary senior adviser to Vanderhoef. It’s too early to say specifically what the campus’s major needs will be at the time, but Grey is sure to be charged with UC Davis’ top endeavors, Vanderhoef said.

"Wise counsel is what a chancellor needs more than anything else. That is what he will give," Vanderhoef said. "Bob understands virtually the entire universe of university activities. He’ll likely have his pick of issues in which to get involved."

As for what’s next, Grey says he’s not sure whether he’ll retire or take another university post."(Being the provost) is a very intensive job," he said. "I decided to take some time before I make a long-term decision."

As he reflects on his 34-year career at UC Davis, Grey says several accomplishments – which he emphasizes were always completed as part of a team – stand out in his mind. "I feel very good about the plans we’ve made for campus," he said. "We have nine new initiatives under way and two new schools that will make a difference."

As the former biological sciences dean, Grey is proud of creating the centers for population biology and neuroscience because both, he says, have strengthened the campus in key biological areas.

And then there are the colleagues Grey’s worked with over the years. They feted him, too, at a reception last week at the chancellor’s residence, giving Grey a print by art professor David Hollowell and a photograph by professor emeritus and former vice provost Harvey Himelfarb.

"One of the pleasures of a job like this is getting to know and work with people from across campus at all different levels," Grey said. "It’s a privilege that few people have."

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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