Last Lectures

Saluting our retiring (and not-so-retiring) professors

By Chris Lydgate '90, Prof. Alan Shusterman & Randall S. Barton | September 1, 2014

Kathleen Worley [theatre 1985–2014]

Prof. Kathleen Worley might never have come to Reed were it not for an incident that was both comic and tragic. 

In 1977, she was an actor living in Portland and busy rehearsing a major role in Ben Jonson’s Volpone, directed by Prof. Roger Porter [English 1961–], to be put on by the Portland Conservatory Theatre. A few days before the show was due to open, however, the cast members discovered that the theatre had been padlocked—the company had run into trouble with the IRS.

The show was canceled and Worley was out of a job. She got a one-year, quarter-time gig at Reed teaching an acting class, then moved to Seattle to be a professional actor. In 1985, she applied for a full-time position at Reed and found her true role in life.

Originally hailing from Reno, Nevada, Worley earned a BA from Pomona in 1969 and an MFA at UC Riverside, both in theatre. She acted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, ACT, Seattle Rep, Artists’ Rep, and Profile Theatre. As an actor, she is probably best known for her original one-woman show, Virginia Woolf: A Spark of Fire, which she performed around the country.

At Reed, she joined a department that managed to put on amazing shows despite conditions that sometimes verged on the Kafkaesque. No one could ever find the light switch in the theatre. At one point, the fire marshall declared that no more than 40 people could occupy the studio theatre—including the cast. There was no soundproofing. ”You could hear everything, including people dragging cords on the floor above you. You had to work together to get anything done.”

And she did. Worley taught acting, directing, intercultural theatre, and 20th-century experimental theatre, supervised 80 theses, and directed hundreds of students in productions such as On the Verge, Crimes of the Heart, Our Country’s Good, Arcadia, The Beggar’s Opera, Measure for Measure, A Bright Room Called Day, and Julius Caesar. She also directed the premier of the WPA play Timber!. In gratitude, the cast gave her a cedar seedling which is now 25 feet tall and stands in her back yard.

She witnessed many breathtaking moments on stage, but some of the most remarkable came during rehearsals. In 1990, she directed Twelfth Night. One student auditioned for the part of Feste, the fool, but Worley cast him instead as the lovesick Duke Orsino. Unfortunately, the student who had won the part of Feste found it difficult to learn the music. Orsino cast off his resentment, rode to the rescue, and taught Feste his songs. “Those are the moments you live for,” Worley says.

“Kathleen is a source of inspiration for me, both as an actress and educator,” says Clara-Liis Hillier ’09. “She demonstrated how to remain a strong, powerful woman on stage and to prepare intellectually and emotionally for your roles onstage. I cherish the time I spent at Reed with her.”

Worley’s sense of humor comes through in a Gary Larson cartoon on her window sill depicting an elephant seated onstage at a piano. “What am I doing here?” the elephant thinks to himself. “I can’t play this thing! I’m a flutist for crying out loud!”

A somewhat more profound maxim is rendered in a graceful script above her desk: “Life is not a rehearsal.” 

—Chris Lydgate ’90

Ron McClard [chemistry 1984–2014]

Thirty years is a long time in professor years.

When Arthur F. Scott Professor of Chemistry Ron McClard joined the Reed faculty in 1984, chemistry was being taught in the old chemistry building, a leaky, cold structure with broken plumbing, inadequate office space, and poorly equipped labs. But Ron seized the opportunity he was given, and began doing and publishing research with his students. Before long he had attracted a cohort of younger faculty united by the same vision: that Reed students were capable of rising to the challenge of doing publication-worthy research.

Now, as Ron retires from teaching, we celebrate his contributions to the college. Among them: obtaining NSF funding for major instruments including two FT-NMR spectrophotometers, publishing 50 papers (at least 15 with Reed student coauthors), teaching in nearly every departmental specialty, and supervising 50 senior theses spread over five different majors, including what might be the only Reed thesis for interdisciplinary work in biochemistry and mathematics. (Lindsay Nicole Deis ’09, “Application of Numerical Simulation to the Determination of Half-of-Sites Reactivity: A Case Study in Biotin Carboxylase.”)

As I retraced Ron’s teaching and research, I made several intriguing discoveries. In 1987 he published the paper “Does the bifunctional uridylate synthase channel orotidine 5′-phosphate? Kinetics of orotate phosphoribosyltransferase and orotidylate decarboxylase activities fit a noninteracting sites model,” in Biochemistry with a bright young chemistry grad named Kevan Shokat ’86, who went on to become a pioneer in the field of kinases.

Ron’s favorite paper was published in 2006: “Half-of-Sites Binding of Orotidine 5′-Phosphate and ┒-D-5-Phosphorylribose 1-Diphosphate to Orotate Phosphoribosyltransferase from Saccharomyces cerevisiae Supports a Novel Variant of the Theorell−Chance Mechanism with Alternating Site Catalysis,” in Biochemistry (all four authors on this paper were affiliated with Reed; Ned Holets ’05 and Andy MacKinnon ’05 were thesis students of Ron’s).

Soon Ron will sail away to new adventures. Bon voyage, mon ami. 

—Prof. Alan Shusterman

V. Rao Potluri [math 1973–2014]

“It is amazing how much influence a teacher has on students,” says Prof. V. Rao Potluri. “Somebody takes one or two classes from a good teacher, and that defines his career. That’s what happened to me.”

Potluri grew up poor in a small village on the coast of Andhra Pradesh in India without electricity or plumbing. As a boy, he used a yoke to fetch water from the well. “It was a happy existence,” he says. “We didn’t know how to be sad.”

Under the tutelage of two professors at Andhra University, Potluri thrilled to the rigorous logic of mathematics, and decided that one day he would teach it himself.

After he earned an MS from Banaras Hindu University in 1968, Potluri was invited to do graduate work with Charles Curtis, a renowned algebraist teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He later transferred to the University of Oregon, earning a PhD in abstract algebra in 1973.

Potluri was initially invited to fill a one-year vacancy in Reed’s mathematics department, and wound up staying for 41 years. He considers it a privilege to teach at Reed. “Reed students come to learn,” he says. “They don’t come to play football. They’re very motivated and teaching motivated kids is a wonderful experience. I don’t think of them as students so much as friends.”

For the past 10 years, he has driven a Honda 750 motorcycle to work, and he describes himself as a “simple-living” guy. The only extravagance to interest him has been good private schools for his children.

Potluri becomes circumspect when asked if math, a field of definite results, can be used to prove the existence of God. Allowing that mathematical laws are often followed in nature, he mentions Snell’s law, which deals with the velocity of light.

“When light travels through two different media, the velocity changes”, Potluri explains. “It bends and chooses a different path and that angle of refraction is governed by the fastest way for the light to travel. So, light is smart, it always chooses the fastest way to reach from here to there. When you think about things like that you might think, ‘God is a mathematician.’” 

—Randall S. Barton

Tags: Professors