Captain, Doctor David Leonard Bershad

Legion of Merit – Bronze Star / V – Navy Commendation / V –Army Commendation /V – Purple Heart -USMC, Ph.D.

1942- 2017

On Saturday, January 21, 2017, Professor David Bershad passed away peacefully at home in Calgary, surrounded by his friends. He was predeceased by his wife Sonia, in 2016.

David was born and grew up in San Francisco, where he developed a love of jazz piano, listening to the great Art Tatum, and Teddy Wilson. He was accepted at fourteen to Stanford University, where he trained under some of the leading lights in Italian Art, including the celebrated Leonardo da Vinci scholar, Carlo Pedretti. Though he was later able to continue his studies, his doctoral research in Rome was cut short when he was called up to serve in Vietnam.
He trained as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, rising to the rank of Captain. He went on to serve in Special Forces in Southeast Asia, leading a number of reconnaissance missions, during one of which he was captured and held prisoner for some time. He was decorated many times for bravery and leadership in combat, receiving some of the highest awards granted for American military service.
Returning to the United States, David resumed his academic career at UCLA, completing his doctorate in 1970. He became a world renowned scholar of the Italian High Renaissance and Baroque, and in his later years, an international authority on the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

David and Sonia moved to Canada in 1975 where he took up a position as Associate Professor at the University of Calgary, and was later appointed full Professor. The latter half of his teaching career was dedicated to St Mary’s University, which he strongly supported for its scholarly approach and its support of the Humanities.

His extraordinary life was guided by a sense of purpose and dedication that never wavered; throughout it, he inspired and encouraged legions of students to seek the best in themselves and in others. In the course of his long career, he received countless teaching awards, both at St. Mary’s University and the University of Calgary, and was ranked among the top professors in Canada. He gave public lectures for the Glenbow Museum, the Big Rock University Lecture Series, the F.C.J’s and CWL, and many others. He served as consultant to various federal agencies in international cases of art theft, and forgery. He was the only art historian from this continent asked to be part of a panel to determine the authenticity of a recently discovered painting, thought to be perhaps the only true self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.



David’s service to the Calgary community, and to both universities at which he taught, is too varied to recount, but among them, the advisory council of St. Mary’s University, the art advisory council of the Military Museums, the Canadian Council for the Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Canadian Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences Aid to Scholarly Publications as a peer reviewer and advisor.
Yet it was teaching, not publishing, and not even his own considerable scholarship, which was the driving passion of his life. Dr. Bershad taught legions of students, all of whom were individuals to him, and each of whom he addressed formally by his or her last name. For some idea of how well and with what reverence (and occasional irreverence) he was regarded by students, readers might wish to visit the colourful sections devoted to Dr. Bershad on the Rate MY Professor (Canada) website.



David’s last year was slowed by illness that he faced to the end with the same courage, humour and determination that marked both his military and academic careers. In closing this all too brief, and inadequate summary, we are grateful for these words from one of his great friends and colleagues at St Mary’s University, whose mission of reviving a true Liberal Arts program was very dear to his heart: “As a uniquely preeminent humanist, David channeled Leonardo, Michelangelo and Caravaggio to each one of us.  He taught me to see not just the artwork that he analyzed but also his students, and his colleagues.  He viewed them all with appreciation and irony, which are the components of a fine play, the like of which I felt was unfolding in every class that he taught.”

There will be a special remembrance (“wake”) for Dr. Bershad at St. Mary’s University on Thursday evening February 2nd from 7-9pm: 14500 Bannister Road SE, Calgary, AB T2X 1Z4A. Funeral Mass will be held at 11am Friday, February 3rd, at Holy Spirit Parish, 10827 24 St SW, Calgary, AB T2W 2Z2.