Robert Maxwell Fesq Jr., a longtime member of Kenyon’s mathematics faculty, died Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fla. He was 81 and a resident of Fort Myers, Fla.
“Bob cared deeply for his students and colleagues, and we will miss our regular interactions with him,” said Brad Hartlaub, associate provost and professor of mathematics. “Bob was incredibly helpful to me in making the transition from a large urban university — Ohio State — to a rural liberals arts campus. I always valued the great advice and mentoring that Bob provided for me as I made my way at this great institution.”
A native of New York City, where he was born to Emilie and Robert Fesq on Nov. 3, 1933, Bob grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1955 and proceeded into a graduate program at Rutgers University. After earning a master’s there in 1960, he moved to the University of Oregon, where he completed his doctorate in 1962.
Bob joined the Kenyon faculty in 1964 as an assistant professor of mathematics, having previously taught for two years at the University of California at Berkeley. He gradually turned his expertise in probability and mathematical statistics toward computer and information sciences, a change reflected in both his teaching and his publications. He was promoted to associate professor at the College in 1966 and to professor in 1991.
Dramatic changes were coming to Kenyon in the 1960s, and with them came changes in village life. In 1969, Bob and his young family moved into a new home in Gambier. Gardening became a competitive activity for some members of the community, and Bob turned his wooded property into a veritable arboretum of rhododendrons.
“Bob loved rhododendrons, and he was a longtime member of the Rhododendron Society,” Hartlaub remembered. “Students and faculty members always enjoyed going over to his house for events, especially when all of the beautiful flowers were in bloom. Bob often gave rhododendrons for housewarming gifts, although many of us did not have his green thumb!”
Also in 1969, Bob was elected as a faculty representative on Kenyon’s Campus Senate. His many other contributions to the community included serving in the mid-1960s as an instructor of high school students in the College’s Summer Program in Mathematics, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. A former chairman of his department, he also held other governance posts, among them a seat on the Faculty Grievance Committee.
“In addition to teaching mathematics courses, Bob led the computer science program,” Hartlaub noted. “In fact, he completed graduate computer courses at Ohio State to improve his skills. He was using activity-based learning and flipped classrooms to teach programming before those terms were invented.”
In 1990, Bob was among the first group of faculty members to be offered funding through the College’s Academic Computing Award Program. He used his monies to purchase licenses for a software program that allowed professors to reduce routine calculations and thus gain more time to concentrate on underlying principles and theories.
Bob retired from the Kenyon faculty in 1997 with 33 years of service. At that year’s Commencement, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of science. The citation for that degree, presented by his fellow mathematics professor Steve Slack, read, in part: “With an exceptionally broad range of mathematical powers, you have successfully taught generations of students in almost all the courses the department has offered, and you have initiated or enhanced our offerings in probability, mathematical statistics, numerical analysis, and mathematical modeling. Most notable, however, is your interest in computer science, sparked by the College’s acquisition in 1969 of its first computer. . . . You have been a leader of Kenyon’s computer-science program since its inception.”
In retirement, Bob divided his time between Gambier and Fort Myers, moving permanently to the latter a few years ago. The tropical climes prompted a return to an earlier botanical enthusiasm, orchids, which he had raised during his time in California decades earlier. According to his daughter Mary, he “had more than 150 well-loved flowers” at the time of his death.
Bob is survived by his companion of 25 years, Gail Daneman; his daughters, Mary Fesq (Bruce Graham) and Deborah Fesq Hessinger (Eric Hessinger); two grandchildren, Maxwell Hessinger and Haley Hessinger; a brother, Jack Fesq; a sister, Mary Fesq Troncale; and his former wife, Janet Haley Fesq. He was predeceased by his brother Bill Fesq.
An open house in remembrance of Bob will be held on Saturday, April 18. Memorial contributions may be made to a scholarship fund being established in Bob’s name, for the benefit of mathematics students, through the Office of Development, 105 Chase Ave., Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio 43022-9623.