Student Voice


June 20, 2024

Professor passes away due to surgery complications

February 7, 2008

The door to Cliff “Skip” Mottaz’s office remains closed, and a sign with a picture of him adorns the outside that reads, “Dr. Cliff Mottaz, Dec. 4, 1940-Dec. 21, 2007.”

Cliff Mottaz passed away on the aforementioned date at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis as a result of complications from surgery, according to a UW-River Falls public affairs news release.

“It was really tragic and it was a shock to all of us,” the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,Terry Brown said.

Cliff Mottaz’s passing has left a void in the sociology department that the college desperately had to try to fill before spring semester started.

“Right now we’ve had to scramble to hire someone from the outside to cover his courses, and we’ve moved some faculty around in their teaching assignments,” Brown said.

“Currently, no clear decision has been made about what to do in the long term,” Brown said.

As a colleague
Dr. Ed Robins, the current chair of the UWRF anthropology department, worked with Cliff Mottaz for 35 years.

“I think one of his most attractive features was that he was very down to earth as a person,” Robins said. “He had no pretensions; he was just a very natural type of person and I think that’s what people enjoyed about him most.” 

Cliff Mottaz was a trusted colleague to Robins and he wouldn’t hesitate to go to him for advice.

“I think I found in him somebody that was quite accessible,” Robins said. “I trusted his judgment in a lot of areas.”

Cliff Mottaz’s advice to his colleagues was not limited to education alone.

Sociology Professor, Brian Copp, met Cliff Mottaz when he came to River Falls 30 years ago.  “When my wife and I first came here it was Cliff and his wife who found a house for us to rent,” Copp said.

He and Copp got to know each other over the years and played softball together. Copp’s two daughters also referred to Cliff Mottaz’s wife, Carole Mottaz as ‘aunt Carole,’ according to Copp.

“She [Carole Mottaz] was really very close to both of my daughters,” Copp said.

Trica Davis said she met him eight years ago.

“He was very supportive when I first got here,” she said. “He will be missed in the department.”

As a professor
Cliff Mottaz’s passion for teaching and advising was more than prevalent to everyone he came across.

“As a teacher he was really informative; he seemed to know just about everything there was to know about what he was teaching,” Mike West, one of Mottaz’s former students and advisees said. “As an advisor he would make any time possible for you. If you needed him he was really easy to get a hold of.”

Cliff Mottaz was recognized for his advising in 2001 when he was named “Adviser of the Year,” according to a public affairs news release.

“Professor Mottaz is always available to his students to answer their questions and to provide thoughtful advice. He is an example to us all,” former UWRF Chancellor Ann Lydecker said in the news release.

Sophomore Amanda Mollner is another student that Cliff Mottaz had a profound impact upon.

Mollner had to go through surgery while she was in one of Cliff Mottaz’s classes and she subsequently missed numerous class periods.

“He was so understanding and so supportive,” Mollner said. “I knew that he was having surgery, but I didn’t know for what and he said he would pray for me during my surgery. I said I’d do the same for him.”

Cliff Mottaz was one of those rare professors that took time to get to know each and every one of his students and it was difficult to find anyone who had a complaint about him.

“If you couldn’t get along with Mottaz, there is something wrong with you,” West said. Robins echoed this sentiment.

“I don’t think I ever had a student come to me and complain about him,” Robins said. “He took real pride in what he did.”

As a husband
Cliff Mottaz had a passion for teaching, research, cars and sports, but his true passion was his wife of 31 years, Carole Mottaz.

“He was always excited to go home on Fridays and spend time with his wife,” Mollner said.

Cliff and Carole Mottaz were inseparable and they simply enjoyed spending time together.

“He always wanted to spend time with me,” she said. “He told me every day that he loved me. His greatest passion was me.”

They shared many of the same passions and hobbies.

“We played racquetball for years,” Carole Mottaz said. “We always went together and we even entered tournaments.”

As time progressed Cliff and Carole Mottaz had to give up the game of racquetball, but a new passion emerged: Cliff’s emphatic love of antique cars.

“In college he was a math major, but he changed to sociology,” she said. “The lingering part of the math was his attention to detail.”

That attention to detail led Cliff into the restoration of 1957 Chevrolets. Carole and Cliff traveled to car shows all throughout the United States to showcase the restored cars. Cliff Mottaz later became enamored with restoring 1970 Chevelles, according to Carol Mottaz.

After Cliff Mottaz’s cars scored a perfect score at two car shows in 1999, he decided that he was done with car restoration because he had reached the pinnacle, Carole Mottaz said.

Aside from teaching, advising and car restoration, Cliff Mottaz also thoroughly enjoyed the simple aspects of life.

“We have a deck and we just loved sitting outside in the summer and talking,” Carole Mottaz said. “Sometimes the neighbors would come over and we’d have drinks.”

Cliff Mottaz was a recognized and praised scholar in the field of anthropology and this allotted him opportunities to travel across the nation and teach at larger universities as part of a lecture circuit, but his devotion to his wife and UWRF kept him here.
“He wanted us to be able to be together,” Carole Mottaz said. “He [also] liked the small-town feel of River Falls.”

His legacy
Cliff Mottaz spent 38 years of his life teaching and advising at UWRF. He made an impact upon the university and his legacy will live on through the scholarship that pairs his name right beside his wife’s.

The Doctors Cliff and Carole Mottaz scholarship will be instituted 2008-2009 and it will be available to Cliff Mottaz advisees. Along with the scholarship there will be a memorial service set up some time during the spring to honor the life and legacy of Cliff Mottaz, Carole Mottaz said. To read more about Cliff Mottaz and his contributions to UWRF visit the UWRF Sociology Department Web site at: