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Speers leaves many mourners

Sudden loss jolted the Skidmore community in February, when Dick Speers, longtime mathematics professor, died of a heart attack at his home in Saratoga Springs. He was sixty-eight.

Speers earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Kansas. He also pursued graduate study in German at Yale University and at Freiburg University in Germany. An algebra scholar, his research specialty was ring theory.

Speers joined the Skidmore community in 1967 and chaired the math department from 1975 to 1983. His colleague Dan Hurwitz recalls that Speers oversaw “years of incredible growth” in the department. Speers also helped introduce, and became the department’s resident expert on, the Mathematica software used in calculus labs. Hurwitz remembers Speers as an “open, calm, humorous, and lovely colleague,” whose classes were “enormously interactive, with students doing a great deal of the teaching.”

Hurwitz adds, “Dick was one of the most broadly educated people I knew.” And he shared his skills and interests generously, according to the many friends who gathered for a campus memorial service. Speers regularly visited Helga Doblin, professor emerita of foreign languages and a native German speaker, so that the two could read German literature aloud, and he gave piano lessons to a range of students (including the children of many Skidmore colleagues). According to Isabelle Williams, professor emerita of music, he was “a very fine musician”—not only a pianist, but also a bassoonist in the Skidmore orchestra and a member of the Saratoga Chamber Singers. A lifelong learner, he studied continuo playing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and completed most of the requirements for a degree in music through Skidmore’s University Without Walls. Most recently, he was taking Swedish language lessons.

Math professor and food scholar Una Bray deemed Speers “one of the finest cooks at Skidmore.” In exchange for his excellent home-cooked meals, Claire Olds, former dean of students, sometimes groomed his two standard poodles for him (he also had cats, four of them named for volcanoes). Bray says Speers learned gourmet cooking as a single father: “Dick cooked his way through Julia Child” in order to provide proper meals for his twin sons, Kurt ’92 and Karl ’92.

“He loved parenting—those boys were his world,” says social-work professor Peg Tacardon. “He had one of the kindest, biggest hearts that I know.” —AW, SR