Tom Drummer Passes Away

Fisher Hall will no longer resonate with the hearty laughter of Tom Drummer. The 59-year-old professor of mathematical sciences passed away over the weekend at his home in Chassell.

“It is a big shock,” said Department Chair Mark Gockenbach. “Tom was such a great guy.”

Drummer joined the math faculty in 1985, after completing an MS in Applied Statistics from Bowling Green State University and a PhD in Statistics from the University of Wyoming. He served as interim chair of the department for several months during the 1996–97 academic year and at the time of his death was the department’s graduate program director. He was a member of the Academy of Teaching Excellence, composed of faculty who are finalists for the Distinguished Teaching Award.

“He was a fantastic teacher, very popular and deeply concerned about students and what they needed to get out of their classes,” Gockenbach said. “He was always interested in keeping his courses up to date, and he developed two new courses in the last couple of years.”

Drummer also devoted plenty of time to students outside of class. “He spent a lot of hours counseling students on academics, career issues and personal problems,” Gockenbach said. “I just read an email from a student who described him as a father figure, and he’s probably not the only one who feels that way.”

Drummer was equally supportive of junior faculty and graduate students. “He was a real source of help and guidance to younger faculty members,” Gockenbach said. And when he served on graduate student committees, he took his responsibilities very seriously. “Tom was very active in those projects, giving students substantive advice on statistical analysis of their data.”

Plus, he was simply a joy to be around. “We will all miss his booming laugh, his outgoing personality,” said Gockenbach.

Martyn Smith was acting chair of mathematical sciences and served on the committee that hired Drummer. “Tom was always a dedicated teacher, and he interacted with many departments across campus,” Smith said. “He was always positive, and I always appreciated his honesty and his good judgment. Nothing was ever personal with Tom, and that’s a wonderful quality. He simply wasn’t selfish. In the end, he was a kind and gentle spirit.”

Professor Jianping Dong was his friend and colleague for 21 years. “I can’t believe I’m not going to see him again,” she said. “He was one of those people who gave you the feeling that if he was there, everything would be OK. He was just incredible.”

Drummer had an active research program that included statistical analyses of wildlife populations. Among his many projects, he studied trout in Yellowstone Lake, wolves and elk in and around Yellowstone National Park, wolves in Alaska, moose in the Upper Peninsula and the wolves and moose of Isle Royale. In addition, he was working with Department Chair Jason Carter (KIP) on sleep deprivation studies and collaborated on a study of ethical research conduct with humanities and cognitive and learning sciences faculty. Drummer authored or coauthored more than 30 publications.

“Tom has had a tremendous influence on my scientific and professional career and that of my students,” said Carter. “I’ve worked with Tom on a variety of research projects over the past 15 years, beginning with my graduate dissertation. He was always eager to provide statistical consultation to faculty across the University and took a special interest in helping junior faculty in the health sciences in recent years.”

Drummer could be counted on to provide a thoughtful, selfless perspective.

“He was constantly trying to improve things, and he was very popular with the faculty and the students,” Dong said. “All his energy was devoted to teaching, the statistics program and the department.”

Gockenbach agreed. “I always appreciated his willingness to speak his mind. He was very much a faculty member who had the best interests of the department at heart; he was not selfish in any way,” he said. “That was a huge help to me as a department chair. Tom was always looking at the big picture for the sake of the department.”

Drummer had a vibrant life outside the University. “He was never happier than when he was in a kayak fishing on a lake,” Smith recalled. “He went fishing a lot with his fishing buddies and was looking forward to retirement,” Dong said. “He talked about buying a house near the Mackinac Bridge.”

“He loved the outdoors, and he loved Michigan Tech. I could talk science with him, and immediately follow that up with a conversation about fishing or hunting,” said Carter. “Tom has been a good mentor and colleague, but more importantly I considered him a good friend. He was able to laugh and make others laugh, and always had the best interest of the University at heart.

“The Michigan Tech community lost a dedicated and generous person, and I know he will be remembered and sorely missed by many. I’m deeply saddened by this loss,” Carter said. “Tom was a really good person.”

His door was always open, and he was always there with a helping hand, said Dong. “You could always talk with Tom, and if you were having trouble, say with a student, he would say, I would do this and that. Now that he’s gone, I don’t know who I’ll ask. I’m so sad that he’s left us.”

A funeral service will be held in Ohio. Details will be announced as they are finalized.

by Marcia Goodrich, magazine editor
Published in Tech Today