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Richard Speers

Richard Speers

February 21, 2005

Richard Speers, associate professor of math and former chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, died Feb. 18, of an apparent heart attack, at his home in Saratoga. He was 67.

Born Dec. 19, 1937, Dick earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and a doctoral degree in algebra at the University of Kansas. He also pursued graduate study in German at Yale University and at Freiburg University in Germany. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Mu Epsilon, and Sigma Xi, he was the recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Dankstipendium from the German Academic Exchange Service. Dick’s research specialty was ring theory. He published articles on simple graded rings in the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society and Duke Mathematics Journal.

He joined the Skidmore community in 1967 and chaired the department from 1975 to 1983. He was Skidmore’s expert on the computer software Mathematica.

Department colleague Dan Hurwitz (whom Speers hired) recalled that Dick oversaw “years of incredible growth” in the department. He said, “Dick was a very open, calm, humorous, and lovely colleague.” He added that the classes that Speers taught “were enormously interactive, with students doing a great deal of the teaching.” And he cited him as “one of the most broadly educated people I knew,” with vast knowledge about the history of mathematics as well as languages, music, and other fields. Hurwitz, whose wife is from Germany, remembers that Speers would often speak in German with them.Dick was also the piano accompanist when Hurwitz’s daughter completed her New York State Schools of Music Association evaluation.

Dick regularly visited Professor Emerita of Foreign Languages Helga Doblin, and the two would read German literature aloud. Isabelle Williams, professor emerita of music, called him “a very fine musician,” citing his contributions as a bassoonist in the Skidmore Orchestra, his participation with the Saratoga Chamber Singers, and his piano and organ playing in Saratoga Springs, Albany, and Troy. He studied continuo playing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and completed most of the requirements for a degree in music from Skidmore’s University Without Walls. He taught piano privately to a number of pupils (many of them offspring of his Skidmore colleagues) and had season tickets to the Albany Symphony. Informally he played piano in a trio with English Professor Murray Levith on violin and Doblin on cello.

Dick also was a talented cook. Una Bray, associate professor of mathematics, called him “one of the finest cooks at Skidmore” and reported that, as a single father, “Dick cooked his way through Julia Child” so that his twin sons would have good, nourishing meals, properly prepared. His good friend Claire Olds, retired dean of students, would often groom Dick’s two poodles in exchange for a home-cooked meal. Frequently it was Wednesday’s featured recipe from The New York Times, she recalled.

Speers loved cryptic crossword puzzles, an interest that he and Williams shared, and he was an animal lover four of whose five cats were named after active volcanoes.

Peg Tacardon, associate professor of social work, especially mentioned Dick’s devotion to his twins, Kurt and Karl, who graduated from Skidmore in 1992. Kurt, a ranger with the National Park Service at Yellowstone, majored in chemistry, and Karl, completing a medical residency in Key West, Fla., majored in physics. “He loved parenting—those boys were his world,” Peg said. “He was always there for his boys, for his students, and for his friends. He had one of the kindest, biggest hearts that I know.”

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