With the retirement of Dr. Ronald Richard at the close of the last academic year, Thomas Aquinas College bade farewell to one of its longest-serving, most-respected tutors — and more.
During his 35 years at the College, Dr. Richard undertook a wide array of roles and an even broader range of tasks. A physicist and an astronomer, he served multiple terms on the College’s Instruction Committee, where, among other things, he helped to refine the natural science portion of the curriculum. A mathematician, he conducted the annual statistical analyses that the College used to set its budgets and determine faculty hiring levels. An economist, he contributed to a 1991 financial study that was the basis of the College’s growth strategy for the subsequent two decades. A computer scientist, he established and administered the College’s first computer network in the early 1990s. A linguist, he translated texts from French, German, and Latin into English for student use. And a stalwart of the community, he served as a longtime member of the Board of Governors.
Of course, before all these roles, Dr. Richard was and remains a gifted educator. Over the course of his tenure, he taught almost the entirety of the College’s academic program, including all four years of philosophy and mathematics.
Yet even to recount all these accomplishments is only to tell a small part of Dr. Richard’s many talents and experiences. Well before he ever came to the College, he had a distinguished career as a scientist. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Michigan, he worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, Calif., where he initially calculated preliminary trajectories for launches to the moon, Venus, and Mars, and later contributed to the theoretical design of space computer programs.
It was only while earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of California, Los Angeles, that he discovered a passion for teaching. That passion first brought him to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he spent six years teaching physics and astronomy, before coming to Thomas Aquinas College in 1976.
Dr. Richard quickly proved to be an indispensable part of the team of educators who labored to establish the College in its early years. “Ron was someone who, on the one hand, had the commitment to Aristotle and St. Thomas that are central to the College, and on the other hand had a real command of mathematics and physics,” recalls Peter L. DeLuca, one of the College’s founders and its vice president for finance and administration. “He gave a kind of confidence to the leading group in the College in those years in terms of the formation of the curriculum in those areas.”
Dr. Richard would play a significant part in shaping the natural science component of the College’s integrated curriculum. “When I came here we were using St. John’s College manuals, which were interesting, but were not well suited for the way we approach things,” he says. “So I asked the Instruction Committee if I could write a Senior Lab manual, and it gave me the go-ahead.”
Throughout his time at the College, Dr. Richard would often show such initiative, while also gladly doing whatever was asked of him. “Ron was absolutely a team player, loyal to the institution and the idea of the institution,” says Mr. DeLuca. “He was in the highest counsels of the school, and that is reflected in the fact that he was the first tutor to be appointed to the Board of Governors who was neither a founder nor an administrator. He was a real leader in the institution.”
He still is. Despite retiring from formal teaching, Dr. Richard intends to remain active in the life of the College. The faculty has honored him with the newly created title of Tutor Emeritus, and he is currently completing a calculus manual for junior and senior mathematics.
“There are a lot of original works in calculus that were not available when I first came to the College, but now with Google Books, there are many more,” he explains. “So I am going through the works to find what might be suitable and, where necessary, translating the texts into English.” Dr. Richard is also in consultation with members of the teaching faculty about finding ways to incorporate quantum physics and additional evolutionary biology into the senior natural science course.
“I’ll keep busy,” he says — as always.
Posted: November 9, 2011