In Memoriam: Robert Shepherd (1938-2021)

Bob Shepherd during his tenure at UC Santa Cruz
Robert "Bob" Shepherd has left a lasting legacy through his commitment to students.

On January 9th, Robert Shepherd, a teaching professor emeritus from the UC Santa Cruz Economics Department, passed away from cancer, peacefully and in the company of family, at 82 years old. Shepherd taught at UC Santa Cruz for more than 30 years before his retirement in 2015. He was an instrumental figure both within the university and in the lives of his students. 

Shepherd, or “Bob”, as many knew him, joined the economics faculty in 1983, following nearly two decades of governmental and corporate employment as a CPA. He went on to found the Economics Department’s accounting path. He was also a teacher and mentor to thousands of students and helped develop the business management economics undergraduate major. Throughout his tenure at UC Santa Cruz, Bob taught more than 17,000 students in the classroom and mentored nearly 1,700 students through independent study courses. 

During a prior interview in 2015, Shepherd described what this work meant to him. 

“The past 15 years have been the most rewarding period in my teaching career,” he said, at the time. “Many of the students, like myself, come from working class families and are often the first member of their family to go to a university. My emphasis is to prepare students for their future career.”

Shepherd was recognized many times over the years for his teaching skills and his dedication to students. He earned the UC Santa Cruz Excellence in Teaching Award in 2001 and 2011, the Universal Design of Instruction Award from the UCSC Disability Resource Center in 2011, the Golden Apple Distinguished Teaching Award from the Social Sciences Division in 1991, the Favorite Professor Award in 1991 and 1992 from the UCSC Alumni Association, and the 2015 outstanding educator award from the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA).

“Bob led an admirable life,” said UCSC Distinguished Professor Emeritus Donald Wittman, who worked closely with Shepherd in the Economics Department. “He was kind, gentle, witty, and an inspirational teacher.” 

Former students remember Shepherd for these attributes, too. His warm personality and sense of humor made his classes particularly interesting and enjoyable. 

Bob Shepherd talking with students on the UC Santa Cruz campus
Bob Shepherd chatted with students at an economics reception during a 2015
alumni weekend event. Photo by Melissa De Witte

“Bob taught accounting not just like another subject, but like a language or lifestyle,” Said Peter Bui, an Oakes College alumnus and 2007 graduate of the business management economics bachelor’s program. 

Ofir Fatal, a 2006 business management economics graduate and current finance business manager at Intel, also praised Shepherd’s teaching style and mentorship. 

“Bob brought an energy and passion to the material that inspired me,” Fatal said. “He encouraged me to challenge my understanding and interpretation of the material, and he devoted countless hours of his personal time for the betterment of myself and all students under his tutelage.” 

Even after Shepherd retired from teaching, he stayed involved with new student orientations, alumni events, the CalCPA scholarship program, and fall job fairs, through which he played an instrumental role in connecting his students with career paths. Shepherd founded and organized the department’s annual “Meet the Firms” day, which gives hundreds of students the chance to meet and interview with representatives of major accounting firms.

“His dedication in attracting top firms to our campus provided opportunities for countless UCSC students,” said Economics Department Chair Alan Spearot. “Bob really put our accounting program on the map and set the bar for professional development.” 

In 2015, through the generosity of donors, the Robert J. Shepherd Economics Accounting Path Scholarship was founded in Shepherd’s honor to support academically high-achieving students focusing on accounting.

Shepherd was also remarkably dedicated to keeping up with his students after they graduated, continuing the mentorship that proved so successful while on campus. When he retired, he wrote in the department’s newsletter that hearing from former students and getting updates on their careers was a deeply gratifying experience. 

“I am especially elated when [a student] writes and tells me they have passed the national Certified Public Accountant examination or have gotten that big promotion,” Shepherd wrote, at the time.

Shepherd will be remembered as a friendly and generous person who made everyone on campus feel welcome and “always made time for a conversation about teaching, travels, and life more generally,” said Alan Spearot. Shepherd will be deeply missed, but his impact and legacy will endure, at the university and beyond. 

“Bob's memory will live on through his students,” said Ofir Fatal. “And I am proud to have been one of them.”