Beloved ETSU professor, musician Chris Dula dies

Hannah Swayze • Updated Jan 8, 2019 at 8:45 PM

Beloved East Tennessee State University Professor Chris Dula died early Tuesday morning, a year-and-a-half after a diagnosis of aggressive brain cancer.

The family confirmed that the ETSU psychology professor died Tuesday around 6:45 a.m. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in June 2017 after two emergency surgeries, one of which was to remove a small tumor.

Dula was one of the most well-known teachers at the university, where he had taught since 2004. He inspired students and faculty and was famous for high-energy lectures that made his name well known to students — and his Intro to Psychology class difficult to get into.

He is also known through his band, Kryss Dula and Friends, which played at ETSU-sanctioned and charity events with Dula as the front man. He often introduced the group as one that never rehearsed and which was made up of whoever could make it that night.

More than just an inspirational teacher who lived life to the fullest, friends and family said he leaves a legacy of hope, generosity and love.

Stephen Marshall, a close friend of Dula for more than a decade, describes him as many things, but said his go-to description was “personified energy.”

“If you could take raw energy and make it a person, it’s Chris Dula,” said Marshall. “He’s one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever known, and he shoots info out like a machine gun and … he’s all about love and I want to be more like him every day.”

Even after his initial surgeries, evidence of Dula’s cancer seemed minimal on the outside. His long hair shaved on one side was the only visual indicator.

Before his diagnosis, Dula wrote a memoir, “Experiments in Life,” under the pseudonym Steven Sage.

It was after his diagnosis that he began his #GetDulaonEllen bid. He wanted to get onto “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” but not for himself. His motivation was to sell his book, from which 75 percent of the proceeds go to charities.

Charities that benefited from the book included Coalition for Kids, the California Fire Foundation, The United Way of Puerto Rico, Houston and Miami and more, according to a Johnson City Press article from September.

Devin Ricker, a former student and friend of Dula’s, made a documentary about the teacher that premiered late last fall. Dula’s diagnosis came during the shooting process.

Ricker said it made him value his moments with the Dule even more afterward.

“I felt like I learned something every time I talked to him he’d teach me not just scientific, but about life,” said Ricker.

Dula’s wife, Denise Dula, said she believes he made such an impact on so many people because he truly cared for others, something she witnessed every day.

“Chris has changed the way I look at life,” said Denise. “I strive to live my life the way that he did, every day. His legacy will live on through his family, friends and students. It is beautiful.”

A celebration of life is planned for Sunday at 1 p.m. in Brooks Gym on the ETSU campus. The event is open to the public. More information will be released by ETSU in the coming days.

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