Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community on Nov. 27, 2023. – Ed.
I write to share the news that Donald Joseph Messmer, J.S. Mack Professor of Business, Emeritus, died peacefully on November 15, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia after a long battle with vascular dementia.
Born July 30, 1936 to the late Edgar L. and Lucille S. Messmer in Kirkwood, Missouri, Don was an only child. He graduated from St. Louis Country Day School in 1954, where he was predicted to “run (the late race car driver and businessman) Joey Chitwood out of business.” He was briefly enrolled and honorably discharged from the United States Army where he learned engineering and architectural drawing.
Don married the love of his life, the late Charlotte Fox Messmer, on May 28, 1965. They began a life together in St. Louis where he was accepted as a student at Washington University in St. Louis and completed both his BSBA, with Honors, and Ph.D. in Marketing and Quantitative Analysis. In 1974 Don and Charlotte moved to Williamsburg, Virginia where he accepted a position as Assistant Professor at William & Mary. They soon welcomed surviving daughter, Angeline Charlotte Messmer Cooke in November of 1974. Professor Messmer was founder and president of The Wessex Group, Ltd. in 1979, which he operated throughout his career. He was granted tenure at William & Mary in 1982 and was appointed as the first J.S. Mack Professor of Business Administration at the university.
Professor Messmer was one of a small group of professors whose leadership transformed the School of Business from a small regional school to its current status as a nationally ranked professional school. During his tenure, Professor Messmer taught, at one time or another, every marketing course offered in the School of Business. He brought to teaching a blend of academic rigor and an extensive working knowledge of marketing that made his courses a model of what business education should be. Professor Messmer served as the Director of the Executive MBA Program from 1988-1991. During that time, he introduced curriculum changes that, among other things, added an international trip component to the program. From 1998 until his retirement in 2006 Professor Messmer was the Director of Field Consultancy Projects for the MBA program, building the program into a centerpiece of the MBA educational experience at William & Mary.
Professor Messmer’s commitment to service both to his school and to his community was legendary. He had been chair of every major standing committee in the School of Business, often more than once. He also played a critical role in setting up the Executive Partners Program at the school. In the greater community Professor Messmer had been Chair of Williamsburg‑James City County Community Action Agency, United Way of Greater Williamsburg, Williamsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Human Services Agency Space Needs Task Force, and founded the Community Services Coalition which built and operates the Historic Triangle Community Service Center. His career of service to the university over more than three decades as teacher, scholar and leader exemplified an outstanding William & Mary professor.
In 1999, he welcomed survivor and son-in-law James Robert Cooke, Jr. into his family and became a grandfather of three grandchildren; William Spencer Cooke (22), Patrick Messmer Cooke (21) and Grace Ann Cooke (15).
Professor Messmer is best remembered for his dry sense of humor, his fast driving and his love of building. His lasting legacy to his family is a home that he designed and built lovingly for his wife and daughter, a solid sense of community, respect for honesty and a strong work ethic. May his legacy live on in those he left behind.
A visitation reception will be held at the Mason School of Business at Miller Hall on Friday, December 1, 2023 at 11 a.m. Please consider making donations to the William & Mary Mason School of Business Annual Fund by using this link.