Whether he was wearing his grand bagpipes or wearing a genuine smile, this honorable man made the School of Music a place to call home.
Dr. John A. Duff served as the the director of the School of Music at the University of Florida for 13 years.
He held the same position previously at Texas State University but decided to leave the Old Southwest in 2002 when he heard of the developments being made at UF’s SOM.
Since then, he moved SOM forward and into the national spotlight. He increased the number of students enrolling and improved the quality of the student body.
“My highest priority was to develop an environment where we, the faculty and staff, can truly work together,” Duff said. “The students are very aware of their surroundings. And for many of them, this school is their home.”
Throughout the halls of the music building, he always kept his office door open. Promoting this welcoming space inspired other faculty to do the same.
His character rippled positive energy across the College of the Arts, especially within SOM.
“When he came in, it was a breathe of fresh air,” said Dr. Raymond A. Chobaz, the director of UF’s Symphony Orchestra. “With Dr. Duff as director, I jumped out of bed because I was excited to go to work.”
Chobaz entered his 35th year at UF and worked closely with Duff during those 13 years.
“He had a responsibility to other human beings, and he never let us down,” the conductor said. “He is a man you can trust. He is not a politician; he is a straight shooter. He is the real thing.”
During the Great Recession beginning in 2007, Duff was faced with one of his greatest challenges: managing the budget. Even under great pressure, he managed to protect the faculty, staff and programs from undergoing large cuts.
“We came out of that much better and stronger,” said Dr. Kevin Robert Orr, the current director of the School of Music. “I found the school in very sound position on many profound levels thanks to his leadership.”
Orr had been teaching at UF for three years before Duff arrived at UF.
“I consider him a mentor, beyond a colleague and friend,” Orr said. “His decisions were made primarily in caring about people. He wants people to be successful. He cares about the community and the reputation of all.”
While holding a prominent position within the College of the Arts, Duff mainly worked away from the limelight. He rarely boasted about his achievements.
“After accomplishing something in public, my favorite memory was always giving the credit to him,” Chobaz said. “You could see his happiness on and off stage. A smile on his face meant everything.”
Whether he addressed an issue, observed rehearsals or supported students with their research, Duff tried to be present in the lives of students despite his busy schedule.
“I think the important thing for students to realize is that they are entering into the future,” Duff said. “These are times of uncertainty and change. They need to be able to wear more than one hat to broaden their experiences.”
Duff’s efforts during his 13 years as director left a lasting impact on those who continue to walk the halls of the SOM.
“Being a director is an incredible balancing act, and that is not something everyone can achieve successfully,” Orr said. “Dr. Duff is someone people wish to be.”
The UF Symphony Orchestra is dedicating their concert in honor of Duff on Thursday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the University Auditorium.