Monday, March 30, 2009


People have been very kind in their expressions of concern since Dad passed away a few weeks ago. Our family has benefited from many meals, cards, flowers, memorials and the like and all are appreciated. Perhaps one of the more touching things we have received, though, is the letter below. It’s especially meaningful in light of how Dad thought his attempt at teaching high school was a pathetic failure. This letter, however, shows how even when we may think our efforts are miserable or unnoticed or influence may have more impact than we ever realize. Still waters may run deep, but maybe that lets those droplets of influence travel that much further.

Dear Family of Victor Durrington:

I am writing to express my sympathy to you for the recent death of your loved one.

I knew Mr. Durrington briefly during the 1954-55 academic year when he taught in the Republic, Missouri, High School. I was a freshman in high school at that time and enrolled in a general math course taught by him. Thanks to his effort, that turned out to be a very special course for me - one of the most significant courses I took in high school. Three of us in that class benefited from special pains he took on our behalf. He recognized that the three of us - two boys and one girl - were more talented and knowledgeable in math than the rest of the general math class in which we were enrolled. He offered us the opportunity to study trigonometry book, I assume from his personal library, and let us work through those books at our own pace. We sat in the general math class, but read and did homework problems from the trigonometry texts. It must have taken considerable courage on his part to risk his teaching reputation by allowing us as very immature high school freshmen to chart our own course that year. I marvel that he did this at a very young age – I calculate he was 21 or 22 at the time – and with very little experience at teaching. The Republic position must have been his first teaching position after graduating from college.

The seeds he planted in that course surely were significant in pushing us toward our eventual education and careers. The two boys in that group each went on to earn PhDs in physics: mine from the University of Missouri at Rolla and the other boy earned his PhD in physics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The girl in that group earned her degree from Indiana State University in Terre Haute (I think, although I am not certain) and went on to marry a gentleman who became president of a small college. I recently retired from a 39 year career teaching physics at what is now Missouri State University. The three of us acquired a strong interest in mathematics and a head start on our mathematics education thanks to Mr. Durrington’s insight and daring. I think the results of his teaching are pretty remarkable, considering we were members of a freshman class of less than 40 students in a small high school in a somewhat isolated farming community in Southwest Missouri during the mid-1950s, well before the population and technology explosions that have occurred in the Springfield area in the last 40 years.

It is somewhat ironic that last Wednesday (March 4), I think the day before Mr. Durrington passed away, I had visited the other boy in the group who studied trigonometry, and in the course of our discussion we reminisced about the trigonometry we learned in that freshman math class. I have not seen Mr. Durrington since that freshman year, and I regret that I never got to thank him in person for the contribution he made to my life.

Bob Thurman
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Missouri State University