Mason remembers Sid Dewberry’s ‘guiding light’ legacy

At age 75, Sid Dewberry began taking piano lessons with Mason teacher Linda Monson, principal of what was then called Mason’s School of Music. He is pictured here with Monson at a student scholarship event. Photo by Christophe Bobo

Sid Dewberry, whose advocacy and generosity touched countless students and helped transform the entire George Mason University community, died July 16. He was 94 years old.

The commitments of Dewberry and Reva, his 72-year-old wife who died on June 14, paved the way for expanded student experiences and allowed the university to increase its impact and reputation on multiple fronts, particularly in the areas engineering and music.

Dewberry’s commitment to the university extended beyond philanthropy. He was a member of the Board of Visitors for eight years, was rector from 2004 to 2007, and was a member of the George Mason University Foundation. He was awarded the Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 1997.

Characteristics of Dewberry’s legacy can be seen throughout the university.

Dewberry Hall at the Johnson Center on the Fairfax campus is named after the family, as are the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering and the Reva and Sid Dewberry Family School of Music.

“George Mason University was privileged to have Sid Dewberry as one of its champions,” said Mason President Gregory Washington. “His contributions to Mason have supported our students, enhanced our research, and helped transform our campus. We are grateful for Sid’s contributions and are proud of our association with the Dewberry name, which embodies excellence, innovation and scholarship.

Trishana Bowden, Vice President for Academic Advancement and Alumni Relations and President of the George Mason University Foundation, added, “He was a remarkable force, a visionary and a bold advocate for Mason who put his passions in practice. His impact on our university and our students is all around us, and we cannot thank him enough.

A civil engineer by training and the founder of his eponymous engineering company, Dewberry’s $1 million gift to the Volgenau School of Engineering in 2012 funded a new civil engineering lab, which complements classroom learning with training practice in hydraulics, geotechnics and environmental engineering, and the behavior of structural materials.

Sid and Reva Dewberry’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering was the first Mason department named after a donor.

“Most people don’t know what a civil engineer does,” Dewberry said at the time of his donation. “When you drive to work, when you flush the toilet, when you drink water, all of those things are the product of civil engineers.”

But perhaps Dewberry’s most unique relationship was with Mason’s School of Music.

Dewberry always wanted to learn to play the piano. But it wasn’t until the age of 75 that he began taking lessons from Linda Monson, principal of what was then called Mason’s School of Music.

This relationship led to Dewberry’s decision in 2007 to launch an initiative to purchase 16 Steinway grand pianos for the school, making it an “All-Steinway” registered university.

“He was a beacon with such a spirit of generosity and kindness,” said Monson, who met Dewberry weekly for lessons until the end of his life. “He really wanted to help the next generation of artists, and he wanted Mason to have the best and Mason to be the ‘top of the heap’ to attract the best students.”

Dewberry’s generous philanthropy funded scholarships for talented artist-scholars known as the “Linda Apple Monson Scholars”. For his continued support of the school and for inspiring others to join the cause, the School of Music honored him by becoming the Reva and Sid Dewberry Family School of Music, the first school named by a donor within the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA).

Dewberry is survived by his sons Barry and Thomas, and his daughter Karen S. Grand Pre. He was predeceased by his son Michael.

Rick Davis, Dean of CVPA, said Dewberry’s joy was making and listening to great music.

“One of his main goals in life was to make this experience accessible to an ever-widening circle of humanity,” Davis said. “We at Mason are proud to carry his name as we work to accomplish this essential mission.”