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Photograph of a man

Image description: A man with a white beard and glasses is smiling. He wears a blue turtleneck shirt and a navy vest.
Caption: David Reese Counts


David Reese Counts was born on May 2, 1934 in Columbia, Mississippi, and slipped quietly and peacefully away into the warmth of his dreams on November 11, 2020 in Ganges, British Columbia.

Counts earned his PhD from Southern Illinois University in 1968. He accepted a faculty position in the Anthropology Department at McMaster University, which he chaired for many years, and where he remained until his retirement as full professor in 1996. He prided himself on finding ways to work around the university bureaucracy for the benefit of students and colleagues. Counts’s life was shaped and defined by his scholarship, and with his wife Dorothy (1937–2018)—anthropologist, life partner, and companion of 62 years—by his side he was ever ready to embrace new friends, new ideas, and new experiences. Their field research in West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, spanned 50 years, and they developed a deep love and respect for the people of Kandoka village, whom they regarded as members of their family. Counts was a gifted teacher and mentor to a generation of anthropologists, many of whom conducted research in West New Britain and became lifelong friends. Counts was a committed, active member and Honorary Fellow of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO). His and Dorothy’s professional legacy, published in books, chapters, journal articles, and presented at conferences, especially their ground-breaking work in cross-cultural perspectives on aging and death, and on the RV-ing (recreational vehicle) phenomenon in North America, will not soon be forgotten.

His was a life well lived—full of adventure, love, and laughter. He had a lifelong thirst for knowledge, boundless curiosity, and an unquenchable optimism. Counts was an ardent J. R. R. Tolkien fan, an enthusiastic cook, a decent bass, and a steadfast political activist committed to social justice and conservation. Their home was always open to friends and family of all ages to drop in for a coffee, a beer, a meal, an overnight or a month-long visit. Counts had an abiding passion for the outdoors (and screwdrivers, of which he had ~50!). He served as a seasonal ranger at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado from 1961 to 1968, and he was active for many years with the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies. He was never happier than when he was hiking, camping, and exploring, especially in the mountains.

Counts is survived by his two sisters, Catherine and Molly; his children Rebecca (Tim), Bruce (Anita), Riley (Kayte), and Stephen; grandchildren Caitlin (Tyler), Lowell (Anne), Shawn (Bev), and Stephen (Christine); and great-grandchildren Scarlett, Olivia, and Dorothy. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Médecins sans Frontières, or The Alzheimer’s Society.

(Rebecca Counts and Naomi McPherson)

Cite as: Counts, Rebecca and Naomi McPherson. 2021. “David Reese Counts.” Anthropology News website, January 6, 2021.