Willamette trustee honors legendary mathematics professor

by University Communications,

A $5.5 million pledge will impact students and faculty in mathematics and physics.

In celebration of the 175th anniversary year of Willamette University, Jim Albaugh ’72, a member of the Willamette Board of Trustees, has made a $5.5 million pledge to strengthen the mathematics and physics departments in the College of Liberal Arts.

Among the largest commitments in the history of the institution, Albaugh’s gift includes a $5 million bequest intention to endow two mathematics positions and to create an excellence fund for use by the math and physics departments. One position will honor the late Chester Luther, a beloved professor of mathematics who served the university for 36 years, including a short stint as dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Luther passed away in 1994, but his legacy continues to live on at Willamette through the seven members of his family who have attended the university over several generations and the many alumni he touched over the years.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Willamette in 1972, Albaugh earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Columbia University. He joined The Boeing Company in 1975 and held numerous executive positions in his 37-year career, including his final role as president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. In addition to his service to the university Board of Trustees, Jim has also served as president of The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2011.

Professor Luther had a profound influence on Albaugh’s time at Willamette and his successful engineering career. “Professor Luther got me interested in math and into engineering school. If I hadn't taken a class from him my freshman year I probably would have been a history major,” writes Albaugh.

Albaugh’s generous commitment also will provide permanent support to endow the James F. Albaugh Professorship in Statistics. “I just can’t imagine a math department without probability and statistics,” he says. “It's one of the things I learned at WU that I still apply on a regular basis.”

While much of Albaugh’s commitment will come to Willamette as part of his estate plan, Albaugh is providing immediate funding to activate the Luther Chair and to kick-start efforts to hire a visiting professor in statistics for the mathematics department. The Luther Chair will be awarded annually to the math department chair and the inaugural recipient will be Professor of Mathematics Peter Otto.

“Endowing the Chester Luther Chair is a touching tribute to a teacher who is so beloved by so many students and colleagues. I am extremely honored to be the first person to hold the position,” says Otto. “Support for the visiting statistics position is also very exciting as it will allow us to take advantage of the momentum we have created over the past few years in order to establish a meaningful and recognized statistics curriculum at Willamette.”

In support of Willamette’s commitment to access, Albaugh’s gift also will include two $5,000 scholarships for students from the mathematics and/or physics departments for the next five years.

“It has been wonderful to work with Jim on this transformational gift,” said President Steve Thorsett. “Jim’s extraordinary career is a powerful example of the excellence of a Willamette education and the profound impact of our faculty. I am beyond grateful for his investment in Willamette — today and in the future — and for Jim’s desire to inspire others to join him in support of the institution.”

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