Condolences to family, friends, colleagues of Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington, a respected faculty member at GRCC/JC for nearly 50 years, died over the weekend following an extended illness. His colleagues in the Math Department have put together this retrospective and memorial:

August 20, 1964: Grand Rapids Junior College was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. We had approximately 3,500 students and 90 full-time faculty.  In-district tuition was $6 per credit hour. Semesters were 18 weeks long, with the second semester ending in mid-June. All Mathematics, Physics and Engineering instructors were in the same office, 326 Main; some taught courses in all three disciplines. Total mathematics enrollment was around 700 students each semester, in roughly 30 sections.

It was in this environment that a 21-year-old Tom Worthington began his 47-year career at GRJC/CC. Having recently completed his MS in Engineering at MSU, Tom was hired to teach Physics. Over the next 19 years he taught Physics 125, 126, 245 and 246; Engineering 208 (Statics), and a course that sounds fascinating but no longer exists: Physics 101, “Physics Theories,” in which “…emphasis will be placed on the social and philosophical implications of scientific theories, rather than on mathematical and technical applications.”

Tom created the college’s first computer programming course. Since there was no Computer Applications Department at that time, it was listed under mathematics as Ma 120 “Computer Mathematics.” In a 2-hour lecture plus 2-hour lab format, students wrote programs in Fortran II to solve problems involving Newton’s Method, Simpson’s Rule and solutions to systems of equations. Programs were run on an IBM 1620 computer that sold for $45,000 in 1966 (about $350,000 today). It was slower and had less memory than today’s simplest graphing calculators.

In 1983, Tom made the move from Physics to Mathematics, and in the ensuing 28 years taught Ma 004/104 (now 098), 107, 108, 110, 131, 133, 134 and 255. That he taught at least 15 different courses in two separate departments is a testament to his versatility as an instructor. He also exhibited a great deal of curiosity and creativity, especially when it came to technology. When graphing calculators came to GRJC in 1990, his initial skepticism quickly changed to enthusiasm, and his ability to write useful calculator programs became legendary.  Tom shared his knowledge with the greater GRCC community at three of the Mathematics Department’s Monthly Seminars, giving talks on Chaos, Curve Fitting and the Doomsday Algorithm. 

Tom will be remembered for many things. His 47 years as a full-time faculty member has been surpassed only once, by Dick Foster (Electronics, 50 years).  The 400-plus sick days he accumulated must rank at or near the top. And how he was able, day after day, year after year, to arrive on campus at 8:58 for a 9:00 class will forever remain a mystery.      

Visitation will take place from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Metcalf-Jonkhoff Funeral Home, 4291 Cascade Road SE. A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 47 Jefferson Ave. SE, with visitation from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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