“For me, it was George who over 30 years ago inspired me to roll up my sleeves (having recently moved from SF) to commit 30+ years to the UWCRE program and later the Runstad Center. Both became a part of my life, a priority and, in some ways, me. Early in our first conversation about real estate education at UW, he warned me that it would be ‘complicated’, ‘may take some time and patience’ and was not for the faint of heart. He then supported my journey and all things real estate at UW with all of his being. We love him for that. We will miss him. Thanks George.”
– Jim Reinhardsen
“There are so many things to love about George–his genuine interest in students and collaborators, his patience with working the university bureaucracy to get to the right result, his intellectual curiosity throughout his career where so many other people taper off on that quality as they age. But maybe more than anything else, the thing that drew me to George was his willingness to ‘tell it like it is’, not as a way of kvetching, but as an act of intellectual honesty, so that we could all work together to figure out where to go from there.”
– A-P Hurd
“George’s contributions to our city and college have been extraordinary. He served as a strong bridge between departments through his expertise and collegiality. He served on many MArch thesis committees and was able to connect issues of design, real estate and urbanism with both critical insight and humor.”
– Rick Mohler
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to George’s family and friends with his recent passing.
“Next to my Dad (Jerry Mathews) George Rolfe was one of the most influential forces in the development of my Commercial Real Estate Career.
“I was fortunate to discover George and his series of real estate classes at the University of Washington, College of Architecture and Urban Planning in 1987. George’s feisty personality lit a passion in his students including me. George taught us successful business was about the people and it was ok to question the status quo (then and now) and stand up against the bureaucratic machine while helping shape a better outcome in both the public and private sectors. George had a great gift of connecting at a personal level with his students and making them feel like extended family. His series of Real Estate classes is one of my greatest memories as a student at the University of Washington in the late 1980s.
“The loss of George leaves a large hole when it comes to his philanthropic focused approach to Commercial Real Estate/Economic Development. Fortunately, it will be backfilled with the students he taught for 31 years. Thanks George…”
– Dan Mathews
“At George’s retirement party, which seems only yesterday, I made a fond joke about his “crustiness”. But in truth what made George so incredibly memorable for so many of his students was how much enthusiasm he had for arming us in the classroom with the tools he knew we needed for real life and then the genuine delight he took in seeing us go out into the world and use those tools. And then the further delight he took when we would want to circle back to tell him all about it over a coffee or beer.
On a personal note, George has been a significant mentor and advocate for me from the first time that I walked into his classroom knowing next to nothing about real estate. We stayed connected over a period of more than 20 years and I consider him not just a critically influential person in my career but a cherished friend. And I know many others in Seattle’s real estate community who feel that way. He will be immensely missed. “
– Liz Dunn
“He was one of the more memorable people I met in my career, if not the most. I always enjoyed having him to my reviews, and I to his. He had his feet on the ground, but also knew where to stretch the system to make it better, much better. I like to think mass movements make history, but George reminds us that so do amazing individuals. We all have to work a bit harder to fill his shoes.”
– Michael Pyatok
“I came to the University pursuing a Masters in Business after twenty punishing years in the trades. I had no clue where that would lead as the segway at nearly 40 years old wasn’t obvious. In the Fall of 1988 when I discovered a crossover 3-class series offered by the Department of Architecture in Real Estate Development, the lights came on. I could say that the magic was combining the numeracy of business with the practicality of something REAL, but the secret was George’s encompassing experience and his tutelage.
Everyone knew he’d been there. I am proud to say that someone of his below-the radar prominence was my mentor. George’s tireless effort to create the Master’s program was finally coming into focus when Bob Filley was appointed Director of the Runstad Center. At a lunch with Bob a few years later, he said what everyone knew, ‘the chair is mine, the school is Runstad’s, but the department is George’s’. Straight up!
I last visited with George for coffee in the Spring of 2016 when he had finally retired and taken up residence at his beloved 10 acre retreat on Guemes in the beautiful home that he both designed and built – with his own hands. When George was pleased with himself, he wasn’t one to brag. The glint in his eye and his unique inflection let you know his heart and his head were in the same place. That’s the look he had when he talked about ‘playing on his John Deere’. God Speed, old friend!”
– Leonard French
“In my many years of schooling, George was the best teacher I ever had. He taught with energy and charisma. He captured my attention from the first lesson he taught during day one of the MSRE orientation to the last development class he taught as a professor before his retirement. I loved how he taught real estate alongside his core set of values, sprinkling in the anecdotes of his life.
“George was kind enough to share his time with me after his retirement. We got coffee, lunch, and dinner on a number of occasion. He carefully listened to where I was at in my career and the pursuit of my dreams and then gave me sage advice. As it related to real estate, I valued his opinion above all others.
“I have never worked harder on anything in my life than his development class. It challenged me in ways no other class had before and I lost a lot of sleep that quarter trying to master the material. It was all worth it. I use the skills that George taught me at work on a daily basis and I know I’ll continue to utilize them for the rest of my life.
“A few months ago I was walking south bound on 1st avenue on my way to a networking event at the bottom of Harbor Steps before an MSRE Alumni event that was going to be starting about an hour later. Unbeknownst to me, George saw me walking on the other side of the street and guessed that I was heading to the MSRE event and he started following me. I was quite a bit ahead of him and had entered the building to go the event, but we weren’t able to get up the elevator without a keycard. That ended up being fortuitous, as I exited the elevator to tell some people outside that I had seen, when I was surprised to see George walking up to me. I asked him if he was going to the first event and he said ‘no, I thought I was following you to the MSRE event. You didn’t see me on the other side of 1st avenue waving at you, but I can’t blame you, the girl you were walking with was a lot prettier than me’. We had a good chuckle over that and I chose to skip the first event to walk with George back up to the MSRE event. I feel lucky about the misunderstanding, as it was the last time we got to spend together catching up, just the two of us.
“He was a great teacher and an even better man. He paid me the highest compliment anyone has ever given me, which I’ll keep between the two of us, but it continues to motivate and push me. I will always cherish the time I was able to spend with him and will miss him greatly.”
– Brendan Mason, MSRE 2017
“George Rolfe taught us that in order to make successful decisions about real estate, we needed to take our heads out of our spreadsheets and live in the real world. We needed to listen, to build relationships, to think deeply, and to trust our gut. In his classroom, risk management was as much about being a wise judge of character, and knowing when to stay optimistic, as it was about having a head for numbers. Those lessons were sometimes frustrating for a student pursuing a ‘right answer’, but as I round out the first decade since finishing my MSRE, I find that George’s lessons have stayed with me and I understand them better every year.”
– Julia Levitt, MSRE 2011
At George Rolfe’s retirement party in 2016, current and former students shared their best memories and “George-isms” in the following video clip of complied selfies. The individual clips ranged from informative to cheesy, from serious to outrageous, but all celebrated the impact that George has had on the growing real estate community. While students may bemoan the difficulty of George’s class, or the sheer amount of work, they are more excited and spurred on by what they learn from George. This is reflected in George’s enthusiasm for teaching. “It’s like watching your child be born, or watching your child grow up. Interacting with students who are anxious and hungry to learn, that work hard at it, that get insights into what you’re talking about and push back and challenge me to think. That kind of intellectual and emotional connection is what teaching is all about, in my mind. It’s why I get up in the morning.”