Real Estate Center Loses Two Esteemed, Beloved Faculty Members

“The passing of professors CF Sirmans and John Harding, within days of each other, has left a void in the real estate academic community that will never be filled,’’ said Chinmoy Ghosh, head of the Finance Department. “Both were great scholars and colleagues and personal friends. I consider myself most fortunate and grateful for knowing these two great human beings so closely.’’

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The Center for Real Estate and Urban Economic Studies is grieving the recent loss of two beloved, retired faculty members, both remembered as outstanding scholars, thoughtful leaders, and champions of their students.

C.F. Sirmans Jr., a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor who served 18 years at the School of Business, including brief terms as interim Finance Department Head and Interim Dean of the School of Business, was considered one of the top scholars in the field. In addition to his academic pursuits, he played guitar in a rock band, and served as the patriarch of a large family. He passed away on March 25.

John P. Harding, a second-career professor, was known as an exceptionally dedicated scholar and a “professors’ professor,’’ who was the first colleague that faculty members turned to when they needed research advice. Harding, who passed away on March 21, was also remembered for his kindness, integrity, and compassion.

“Both of these men were giants in the industry, well-respected and good all-around people,’’ said David Wharmby, Director of the Center for Real Estate. “I’ve been talking to alumni and people in industry and they both are remembered as inspiring educators who loved what they did, and mentored many, many students, including Ph.D. students who are working at universities around the country.’’

For professor Chinmoy Ghosh, head of the Finance Department, which includes the Center for Real Estate, their loss cannot be understated.

“The passing of professors CF Sirmans and John Harding, within days of each other, has left a void in the real estate academic community that will never be filled,’’ Ghosh said. “Both were great scholars and colleagues and personal friends. I consider myself most fortunate and grateful for knowing these two great human beings so closely.’’

Sirmans Remembered as a Prolific Researcher

The Center for Real Estate leadership remembers Sirmans, 74, as a remarkable scholar who made a significant impact on real estate, finance, and housing. He led the UConn Center to worldwide prominence as its director, a role he filled from 1991 to 2008. He was also the William N. Kinnard Jr. Professor of Real Estate and Finance and served as Interim Finance Department Head, Associate Dean, and Interim Dean of the School of Business. In 2005, he became a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor.

Sirmans earned a Ph.D. in real estate and urban development from the University of Georgia. His research included real estate finance and investment, focusing on the understanding of pricing, investment strategies, and market dynamics. He authored more than 300 published articles which had more than 17,000 citations. He was also an editor for numerous professional journals and wrote three textbooks.

“For over two decades, CF was my co-author, confidant, and a personal and trusted friend,’’ Ghosh said. “There was a time when I would make no decision, personal or professional, without asking him. We share countless memories over nearly 20 years. People think of CF as a great scholar, but he was also an astute administrator, fair, assertive, and compassionate. CF was an institution, no match ever.’’

Wharmby, who describes Sirmans as one of his graduate-school mentors, agrees.

“His contributions to the real estate and finance industries are unequaled,’’ Wharmby said. In addition to UConn, he was affiliated with nine universities in the U.S. and abroad, either as a faculty member or visiting scholar.

“He was so unassuming and down-to-earth,’’ Wharmby said. “He was a giant of the industry. He was helpful, engaged and truly caring. He found time for everybody and in particular enjoyed helping students with their careers.’’

Sirmans leaves his wife Elaine, six children, 16 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His daughter Eleanor (Tice) Sirmans, served as visiting assistant instructor in healthcare management and insurance at UConn in 2017.

A man of great faith, Sirmans and his wife were active in their church, and in recent years ran an addiction recovery program near their home. Sirmans was also a guitarist in a rock band, that used to occasionally play at academic conferences. Each of his grandchildren inherited a guitar from him, Wharmby said.

Harding Remembered As a Top-Notch Educator

Harding, 78, was a second-career professor, teaching real estate and finance at UConn from 1996 to 2013. His colleagues remember him as a dedicated and brilliant scholar who loved his work.

“There are professors and then there are professors,’’ said Tom O’Brien, professor emeritus in the finance department. “John wanted to know and understand the discipline, not just publish research. He was a dedicated scholar. When I had a question I couldn’t solve involving my research, he was the one I went to. I know for a fact that his students were profoundly impressed by what he taught. He was a top-notch educator all the way around.’’

Harding joined academia following a noteworthy career in finance. He had previously worked at U.S. Steel, the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae, National Permanent Bank, H.F. Holdings Inc and Freddie Mac.

At UConn, his research passion included mortgage valuations and housing prices. He received the Ackerman Award for research excellence twice, as well as other industry accolades. He was popular among both students and colleagues because of his depth of knowledge and his emphasis on relevance.

Harding always had a warm smile and was engaging, honest, and respectful to everyone he met, Wharmby said. Ghosh described him as one of the most sincere, knowledgeable, and conscientious people he has ever known.

Harding, who resided in Tolland, earned his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. He leaves his wife Nancy, of 42 years, and four children and their families. He will be remembered for his kindness, gentleness, compassion and integrity, his family wrote in his obituary.

The two faculty members will be honored at the Real Estate Center Banquet on April 18 at the Graduate Storrs Hotel.