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Thomas Swanson ’62

July 12, 2022, in Portland, Oregon from peritonitis.

With the exception of two years he spent in the Peace Corps, Tom lived most of his life in Portland, where he was born. At Reed, he wrote his thesis, “Theory of Equations for Polynomials in One Indeterminate,” advised by Prof. Dorothy Christensen [math 1959–65], and the following year received his MAT. He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Oregon.

In the Peace Corps, he was sent to West Cameroon, where he worked for the government as  a road surveyor. He loved both his time there and the people he met, and was able to travel throughout West Cameroon and to nearby countries. While surveying, he sometimes had to spend the night in a rural village—much different from the house he shared with other Peace  Corps volunteers in Kumba. One of the highlights of his stay was a visit to the hospital run by Albert Schweitzer in Gabon.

Tom’s professional life was as a high school teacher in the Portland Public Schools. His first assignment was at Adams High School, a nationally celebrated alternative  program, where he met many innovative and dedicated teachers who influenced the rest of his career. After Adams was closed, Tom taught at Jefferson High School, leaving in 1987 to join the staff at the Grant Night School (GNS), an alternative program  for nontraditional students. He worked primarily as a math teacher, but was also given the opportunity to teach other subjects, such as  current events, astronomy, origami, and puzzle making. His excitement for the subjects he taught and his love of teaching made Tom a very successful teacher. Able to think outside the box, he reached students who had never succeeded in or enjoyed math.

Twice chosen as the state nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in  Mathematics Teaching, he won the Excellence in Education award from  Portland Public Schools in 1998, and then retired from teaching.

Tom was active in the Oregon Council of Teachers of Mathematics (OCTM), serving on the board of directors both as an area representative and as vice president. He helped organize and was a presenter at many northwest math conferences, coedited the OCTM publication, TOMT, and was  recognized with the Oscar Schaaf Secondary Mathematics Education Award. Tom continued his  involvement with OCTM until his death.

Tom had a lifelong love for math and puzzles. In his last months he spent hours with his eight-year-old grandson, Miles, working on Rubik’s Cube solutions and math problems. Tom began playing volleyball as a teenager and didn’t stop until his health issues made it impossible to continue. He played on several teams, including the Oregon Rustys, and competed at the National Volleyball Championships for many years. In graduate school, he spent several summers coaching at a girls’ volleyball camp in  Canada, and at Adams High School, he coached the girls’ team that won the city championship in 1974 and 1975. Tom was admitted to the Portland Interscholastic  League Hall of Fame in 2007, and for many years he also coached the teams on which he played.

In 1978, he married Erica Rubin, and they adopted their daughter, Thea, in 1980. After a cross-country trip following Erica’s retirement, the couple moved to the Oregon coast, living for eight years just outside Cape Lookout State Park near Tillamook. After their grandson was born, they returned to Portland to join the ranks of doting grandparents.

In the ’80s, Tom discovered that he had inherited a kidney disease, which he was able to hold at bay until 2016, when he began dialysis. He continued to travel, play volleyball, and enjoy an active life until he was 80, when he began a series of hospitalizations. Sadly, he caught COVID while in the hospital and spent the last 10 days of his life in isolation. He is survived by his wife, Erica; his daughter, Thea; and his sister, Georgia.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2023

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