Andrew C. 'Andy' Helms, Washington College economics professor, dies

Andrew Helms
Andrew Helms (HANDOUT)

Andrew C. “Andy” Helms, a popular Washington College economics professor whose somewhat quirky behavior delighted both his students and friends, died Nov. 12 from undetermined causes at his Crumpton home.

He was 44.


“We are waiting the results of an autopsy which is pending,” said his mother, Julia A. Helms, of Ten Hills, regarding a cause of death.

“We were both colleagues and friends,” said Adalbert Mayer, who is economics chair at Washington College.


“As a person and a teacher, he was thoughtful, detail-oriented and caring. He was very engaging and the students picked up on that,” Dr. Mayer said. “He taught them how to think and to do things the right way. They liked him because he had quirks which made him a fun and effective teacher.”

The son of Samuel T. Helms and Julia A. Helms, Andrew Christopher Helms was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville and Towson.

After graduating in 1991 from Friends School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1995 in economics from the State University of New York-Binghampton.

In 2002, he obtained both a master’s and a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


From 2002 to 2005, he taught economics at the University of Georgia in Athens; he joined the faculty of the State University of New York-Binghampton in 2007.

Dr. Helms came to Chestertown in 2008 when he began teaching microeconomics and urban economics at Washington College.

One example of Dr. Helms’s quirks in addition to stowing his colored chalk in a cigarette case, was a special pen he designed with four different color settings.

“Because we do a lot of graphs, we need to chart things in different colors, so Andy designed this pen which he gave to his students and which came with an inscription,” Dr. Mayer said.

One such pen inscription read: “The world isn’t black and white. Economic models shouldn’t be, either.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Dr. Helms to be covered in colored chalk dust and sweat by the time he concluded a lecture, Lisa Daniels, a professor and economics colleague, told The Elm, the Washington College newspaper.

“What I’ve heard students say, if they’re making fun of professors, they would imitate him by going on the balls of their feet because most of the time, he’d be in the air, on his feet, and come back down,” Dr. Daniels explained in The Elm interview. “He’d have all this enthusiasm, students would say was contagious.”

Dr. Robert Lynch was another economics department colleague.

“He was brilliant,” Dr. Lynch told The Elm.

“I sat in on his classes a couple of times when I was chair, and one thing I noticed was that he was able to describe very complex issues in a manner that was exceptionally clear,” he said. “I remember hearing one student say to another, ‘This stuff isn’t that complicated.’ Oh yes, it is. But he does such a good job explaining it that it doesn’t sound complicated.”

A student of Dr. Helms’s wrote on RateMyProfessors.com that he is “such a fantastic professor. He’s pretty scatterbrained but if you can keep up with him you’ll learn a lot and he’ll make sure you’re laughing the whole way through.”

But Dr. Helms also had a serious scholarly side. His article “Understanding Gentrification: An Empirical Analysis of the Determinants of Urban Housing Renovation” in the Journal of Economics, is often cited, according to The Elm article, “including at least 18 citations, such as the Oxford Handbook of Urban Economics and Planning, several other books, and top-10 peer-reviewed journals.”

From his days working at Martick’s Restaurant and the Cross Street Market when he was in high school, Dr. Helms developed a serious interest in food.

“When we had our first child he brought us dinner, which showed his thoughtfulness. He had food in separate containers with notes telling us what it was and what to do with it,” Dr. Mayer said.

His leisure time activities were varied and included exploring thrift shops and yard sales, as he disliked purchasing new things and preferred wearing second hand clothes and driving used cars, his mother said.

He collected vintage fountain pens, watches, lighters and Bromo Seltzer glassware and other associated memorabilia.

Dr. Helms enjoyed playing string bass and electric bass guitar.

He had volunteered at Light Street Presbyterian Church, 809 Light St., where a memorial service will be held at noon Dec. 20.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father, Samuel T. Helms of Catonsville; his stepfather, Erick M. Figueroa of Catonsville; his longtime partner, Melanie A. Dolesh, a registered nurse, of Salisbury; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

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