SOM Professor Wittink dies in apparent accidental drowning

Yale School of Management professor Dick Wittink, 59, was found dead in a pool at his North Haven home early Tuesday morning.

A pool maintenance man found Wittink, who suffered from diabetes, with a diabetic pump attached to his swim trunks, police said. A spokesperson from the state medical examiner’s office said Wednesday that the cause of death was an accidental drowning, but officials will not know whether Wittink’s diabetes were a factor until the results of a blood test are released in about two weeks.

“It seems that he must have fallen in and drowned,†Wittink’s daughter Marsha Owen said. “He may have also had a low blood sugar level, but we don’t know that and we probably won’t for several weeks.â€

The George Rogers Clark professor of management and marketing at SOM, Wittink joined the school’s faculty seven years ago. Friends and colleagues described him as an outstanding teacher and scholar who always maintained a sense of humor.

“We all mourn the tragic loss of Professor Dick Wittink,†SOM Dean Jeffrey Garten said in a statement released to the News Wednesday. “Dick was a wonderful teacher, a superb research scholar, and a dear colleague to all of us on the faculty. Over the last several years he helped to build the Yale School of Management in general and the marketing group in particular. Our hearts go out to his family at this terribly sad moment.â€

SOM professor Douglas Rae said Wittink was more than an accomplished professor and researcher.

“He was a good guy with a dry wit and a love for a good story,†Rae said.

Wittink, who was originally from the Netherlands, moved to North Haven in 1998 with his wife Marian to take up a post at Yale’s SOM. A former teacher at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Wittink also was a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and had been editor of the Journal of Marketing Research since 2003.

SOM professor David Paltiel said Wittink will be remembered for his collaborative skills. He said Wittink had put his marketing knowledge to some good use several years ago, when he teamed up with rheumatology professor Liana Fraenkel to produce a series of papers on patient preferences for different treatment options.

“It’s the sign of a really supple mind and a great collaborator,†Paltiel said. “He was a real gentleman. This was a guy who had expertise in figuring out what customers liked and valued in products.â€

Fraenkel, who conducts research at the VA Medical Center in West Haven, said she was introduced to Wittink just a few weeks after she arrived in New Haven in 1998 and got to know him well as she worked with him on a regular basis during the next seven years. She said Wittink loved the opera and was frequently drawn to New York City to attend an array of music events. He was also a runner, Fraenkel said, and his favorite

topic of conversation was his grandchild Jasper. Fraenkel said working with Wittink was always a fun and inspirational experience.

“I used to walk out of his office feeling I could do anything,” she said. “He was extremely intelligent, but when you were in a room with him, he spoke to you on the same level and made you feel like he was learning as much from you as you were from him.”

Fraenkel last saw Wittink a couple of weeks ago, when she met him for lunch. His death was a “complete shock,” she said.

“It was my turn to buy next time,” Fraenkel said. “He seemed extremely healthy, he was extremely active. There were no warning signs of anything.”

Wittink was alone in his home at the time of his death on Tuesday. Owen said her mother, Wittink’s wife, was in Florida at a business conference Tuesday and flew back on Wednesday accompanied by the couple’s two children, Owen and her brother Mark Wittink.

Wittink’s family declined to comment further.

A memorial service for Wittink will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Yale Law School auditorium.


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