Richard Thomassen

Staff report

Richard "Dick" Thomassen, professor emeritus of mathematics and computer science and an educator known for his dedication to students, faculty governance and the 3-2 Engineering Program, died on June 7 in Walla Walla.

Thomassen joined Whitman in 1967 after earning his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Colorado and his doctorate at Washington State University. Students quickly flocked to his courses at Whitman. He was the first mathematics faculty member to teach computing on a regular basis, and he served as division chair from 1976 to 1979 and chair of the faculty from 1991 to 1994. Thomassen retired in 1996.

Thomassen's commitment to the college saw him take on additional positions as chair of the mathematics department, director of the computer center, chair of the computer center policy committee and chair of the academic computer users committee. In 1977, he played a role in establishing the college's first mainframe computer.

"When I first arrived at Whitman, I often discussed teaching with Dick. He listened patiently to my concerns and offered helpful suggestions," said Professor of Mathematics Russ Gordon, who has taught at Whitman since 1987. "He was always willing to take on the courses with a heavy workload so that younger colleagues would have time to do some research."

Bill Stivelman '77, an ophthalmologist in Thousand Oaks, California, remembered Thomassen as an "intense mathematician—very exacting, very proper and very forthright, all admirable characteristics. He was a brilliant calculus teacher." Stivelman added, "He made it quite easy for me to succeed in a subject for which I had little enthusiasm at the outset (not true subsequently)."

Thomassen's own enthusiasms struck a chord with Pat Keef, William K. and Diana R. Deshler chair of mathematics. "Besides his family, I think the things that Dick loved best were playing bridge, his contributions to faculty governance and his supervision of the 3-2 Engineering Program. He did all of them with great dedication and ability."

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Bob Fontenot, who came to Whitman in 1975, also remarked on this spirited resolve. Thomassen inspired many mathematics majors to pursue careers or graduate study in applied mathematics, Fontenot said, and "in his role as 3-2 Engineering Program adviser, he helped many students go to engineering school and launch careers in engineering."

Thomassen is survived by his wife, Ruth, and children, David, Susan and Julie Thomassen Jones '79. Funeral arrangements are pending with Mountain View-Colonial DeWitt Cremations and Funeral Services in Walla Walla.