Mason remembers the ‘guiding light’ legacy of Sid Dewberry

man and woman in front of a baby grand piano
At 75 Sid Dewberry began taking piano lessons from Mason Professor Linda Monson, director of what then was called Mason’s School of Music. He is pictured here with Monson at a student scholarship event. Photo by Christopher Bobo

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

The commitments from Dewberry and Reva, his wife of 72 years who died June 14, created avenues for expanded student experiences and allowed the university to grow its impact and reputation on several fronts, particularly in the areas of engineering and music.

Dewberry’s commitment to the university extended beyond philanthropy. He was an eight-year member of the Board of Visitors, served as rector from 2004-07, and was a member of the George Mason University Foundation. He received the Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 1997.

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

Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center on the Fairfax Campus is named for the family, as is the Sid and Reva Dewberry Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering Department, and the Reva and Sid Dewberry Family School of Music.

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

Added Trishana Bowden, vice president for university advancement and alumni relations, and president of the George Mason University Foundation: “He was a remarkable force, a visionary and bold advocate for Mason who put his passions into practice. His impact on our university and students is all around us, and we cannot thank him enough.”

A civil engineer by training and founder of his eponymous engineering firm, Dewberry’s $1 million gift to the Volgenau School of Engineering in 2012 funded a new civil engineering laboratory, which supplements classroom learning with hands-on training in hydraulics, geotechnical and environmental engineering, and the behavior of structural materials.

The Sid and Reva Dewberry Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering Department was the first Mason department named for 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 a toilet, when you get a drink of water—all of those things are the products of civil engineers.”

But Dewberry’s most unique relationship might have been with Mason’s School of Music.

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

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

“He’s been a guiding light with such a spirit of generosity and kindness,” said Monson, who met with 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 for Mason to be the ‘top of the heap’ in attracting the best students.”

Dewberry’s generous philanthropy funded scholarships for talented artist-scholars who are known as “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 donor-named school within the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA).

Dewberry is survived by his sons Barry and Thomas, and daughter Karen S. Grand Pré. He was preceded in death by his son, Michael. 

Rick Davis, CVPA’s dean, said Dewberry’s joy was making and listening to good music.

“One of his chief goals in life was to make that experience accessible to an ever-expanding circle of humanity,” Davis said. “We at Mason are proud to carry his name as we work on fulfilling that essential mission.”