Math professor Prosser dies at 69

by Jeffrey Beyer | 7/3/96 5:00am

Reese Prosser, a mathematics professor at the College for 30 years, died suddenly of a stroke in Bethlehem, Pa. on Sunday morning. He was 69.

Prosser, an avid music lover, was playing the cello with a performing group in a Bethlehem residence on Saturday night when he suffered a stroke. After spending the night in a hospital he suffered a second fatal stroke in the morning.

Prosser came to the College in 1966 after working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory, where he was a group leader in applied mathematics working on space-related research.

He was still an active member of the faculty of arts and sciences at the time of his death.

Mathematics Chair James Baumgartner said Prosser was scheduled to be on sabbatical leave and to have a senior faculty grant during the 1996-97 academic year.

Those who knew Prosser best remembered him as a talented mathematician, a passionate musician and sailor, and a good friend.

Emeritus Mathematics Professor Laurie Snell said Prosser was an "internationally-known mathematician."

"He was a great and kind man who contributed in wonderful ways to the mathematics department, the Dartmouth community and the larger community outside of Dartmouth with his love of mathematics, music and camaraderie," Snell said.

Environmental Studies Professor James Hornig, who said he has lived next door to the Prosser family on Occom Ridge for 30 years, said Prosser "was a marvelous colleague, neighbor and sailing companion."

In the mathematics department lounge, where Prosser used to preside over weekday afternoon tea, colleagues reminisced about how he was the self-titled "social chair" of the department.

Baumgartner said Prosser always hosted parties for the math faculty and graduate students at his Occom Ridge home, which Prosser facetiously labeled "semi-lavish spreads."

John Finn, mathematics lecturer, said Prosser was "famous for having graduate students who weren't in a big hurry to finish their dissertations." Finn said he first became friends with Prosser at the College more than 20 years ago, when, as a graduate student, Finn chose Prosser as his dissertation advisor.

Prosser was an able mathematician, but he was almost equally as known for his love of music.

Robert Norman, mathematics professor emeritus, said Prosser and took his cello with him no matter where he traveled.

"In Italy, in France, wherever he went, he brought his cello," Norman said. "He absolutely loved to play -- it was very important in his life."

Prosser was renowned in the Upper Valley for his musical talents, according to Finn.

Prosser was acting chair of the mathematics department in 1967 and 1968, and served as vice chair from 1967 to 1971. He was also acting director of graduate studies in 1969.

Born in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1927, Prosser had a tour of duty in the Navy before attending Harvard College.

Prosser graduated from Harvard in 1949 and received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1955.

He quickly received a position at Duke University, and taught there from 1955 to 1956, before moving on to MIT, where he taught for two years. At MIT, Prosser also began his work at Lincoln Laboratory.

Prosser is survived by his wife, Nancy Prosser; three children -- daughter Elisabeth Bellows of Palo Alto, Calif. and sons Charles Prosser of Staatsburg, N.Y. and James Prosser of Dallas, Texas; and two brothers, Richard of Berkeley, Calif. and Thomas of Santa Cruz, Calif.

Also, he is survived by four step-daughters and eight step-grandchildren.

There will be a music celebration in Prosser's memory this Friday at 3 p.m. at the Congregationalist Church in Norwich, Vt.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to UNICEF, CARE or the Hanover Conservation Council.

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