Fifty-Year Member of College Community Dies


A memorial service will be held Saturday for Dan Premo, who shaped the College’s Department of Political Science

Dan Premo with Brittny Parsells-Johnson '10, the first winner of the prize named in his honor

Dan Premo with Brittny Parsells-Johnson '10, the first winner of the prize named in his honorDan Premo was a central part of the political science department at Washington College since 1970, teaching for more than three decades and remaining active on campus even after his retirement. He created courses, programs and study abroad opportunities that continue today, even as they have changed with the times. But friends and colleagues remember the kind of person he was even more than all he achieved.

“He got a reputation for being the conscience of the faculty,” said John Taylor, who served as a political science professor at Washington alongside Premo for most of their careers. “He certainly was a person of great integrity, honesty, candor. He said what needed to be said in a way people listened to, and they respected him for doing it that way. He had a strong influence on people.”

That influence stemmed from his willingness to provide frank assessments of issues, whether he was addressing questions of faculty or College governance or privately discussing more personal decisions of colleagues or students. But he was also influential because all of his counsel grew out of a passionate belief in justice and a universal kindness he extended to others.

“He had a fierce but loving voice. He was kind, and he was loving, and he could also be incredibly forthright,” said Christine Wade, chair of today’s political science department. “He would listen without judgment. He could offer his feedback, and it wasn’t just an assessment of the situation. He was genuinely helpful. People sought his counsel. He just had this reputation for being this incredibly kind man. His greatest impact was here as a teacher.”

Premo was not only kind and helpful to students personally, but also a faculty member who designed and updated his courses with them in mind. The College’s Latin America specialist, he created a popular course called “Revolution, Violence and Terrorism,” to connect the theoretical study of revolution with the turmoil of the 1980s as dictators and revolutionaries roiled the Western Hemisphere while the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence in the region.

Many summers Premo would travel in Latin America, and he wrote analyses of the politics of three or four countries in the region each year for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which kept him current in the field but also gave him up-to-date perspectives to share with students. Before entering academia, Premo had worked as a U.S. diplomat in Latin America as part of the United States Information Agency (USIA), and his contacts from that earlier work continued to serve him well in his research.

He created the first Washington College study abroad program to Cuba and the Latin American Studies program, which has now grown into the College’s Latin American Studies minor. Wade was hired to be the College’s new Latin America specialist as Premo was preparing to retire, and she said he was “very gracious” to her during that transition. But unusually, even after Premo retired, he continued to be an integral part of the political science department and Wade’s work.

“Dan and I were just kindred spirits in so many ways. It is a hard friendship to describe,” Wade said. “He was very much a mentor, but it never felt hierarchical. I appreciated that. I don’t think I ever made a major career decision without talking to Dan just because I appreciated his advice so much, and he genuinely cared.”

Three times when faculty members went on leave after his retirement, Premo returned to teach at the College to help the department manage the course load, and when he wasn’t still teaching Washington students, he was closely involved in the Washington College Academy of Lifelong Learning. Taylor said that Premo was well-suited to either his initial career in public diplomacy at USIA or to the academic life, but his love of teaching, which continued past retirement, won out. (Wade noted that his passionate sense of right and wrong may have also made it more challenging for Premo to remain in government service, where one has to fulfill policy that one may or may not agree with.)

But whether teaching, researching, or directly involved, Premo valued public diplomacy, and as the department saw more and more students interested in that work, the political science faculty honored Premo in 2010 by creating the Daniel L. Premo Award, given annually to the graduating senior in political science or international studies who shows the most promise in the field of public diplomacy. 

After he learned of the award as a surprise when it was first given out at a senior awards luncheon, Premo returned to the luncheon year after year to present it himself, along with an honorarium that he personally, and anonymously, provided because “he wanted the students to have a little something,” Wade said, noting that student winners also enjoyed having the opportunity at the luncheon to sit with Premo and get to know the man for whom the award was named.

Dan Premo passed away on July 4 after suffering a stroke. A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 22, 2023 at noon at Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, 130 Speer Road in Chestertown.