Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tim Mutch

Last night I was reading in the Brown Alumni Magazine and came upon an article about the 35th reunion of a group of twenty-five students who, in 1978, had flown to India and climbed the country's second-highest mountain, Devistan. The expedition  had been led by Brown geological sciences professor, Tim Mutch. Here's a little bio of Tim: 

Thomas A. "Tim" Mutch

Thomas A. "Tim" Mutch was born on August 26, 1931, in Rochester, New York. He received his B.A. in history at Princeton University in 1952. Tim's interest in mountain climbing, exploration, and Earth history led to his focus in Geology. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1960.

Tim became an Assistant Professor of Geology at Brown University in 1960. For the next several years he taught courses in Stratigraphy, Planetary Geology, and Exploration. He authored two books, "The Geology of the Moon: Stratigraphic View", and, with several colleagues, "The Geology of Mars." Tim also led the Lander Imaging Team from the Viking Mission to Mars.

Tim disappeared on October 6, 1980, while descending the 23,410 foot high peak of Mt. Nun in the Kashmir Himalayas. At the time of his death, he was on leave from Brown University, serving as Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA. NASA administrator Dr. Robert A. Frosch honored Tim by renaming the Viking 1 Lander spacecraft on Mars, "The Thomas A. Mutch Memorial Station."

I knew Tim well. I was the Congregational-Presbyterian Campus Minister at Brown in 1964-67,  while I was working on my doctoral dissertation, and I had an advisory board made up of Brown faculty and lay people from the two churches who sponsored that ministry. Tim was the chairman of that Board when I was hired.  He was just a year or so older than I, and we hit it off well - we were both tall and gangly, for starters (I think he was a little taller than I). Tim was a good listener and a helpful advisor. He was also a creative teacher. While I was a campus minister  at Brown, the university reformed its curriculum, under the prodding of the brilliant then-student Ira Magaziner (who later became somewhat infamous as an advisor to Hillary Clinton when she attempted to reform the U.S. health care system), and it created a course called "Modes of Thought" which encouraged faculty members to break out of their departmental specialties and explore the bigger picture. Tim was teaching a Modes of Thought course titled "Exploration" which led to this group of students actually doing it - exploring a mountain in the Himalayas, with Tim as leader. In what proved to be a harbinger of Tim's own death two years later, one member of their group died during the expedition.

The article said that Tim's daughter and grandson were at a forum that was part of the reunion. I guess the daughter would have been one of those little girls I met when I visited Tim, and his wife Madelaine, in their home in the mid-1960's.

My son, John, worked in the planetary geology photo lab at Brown. Tim may have been on leave then, but he certainly knew of him.  There is a Tim Mutch memorial guest lecture every now and then. For example, this past April, Jean-Pierre Bibring, of  the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Univ. of Paris, gave a lecture on "Plurality of worlds: Mars, Rosetta, Earth and the emergence of life." There will be another lecture this fall. Maybe John and I could go to it together. That would be fun!

Reading this article about Tim has made me aware of how little I have had to do with Brown since I left Providence in 1967. I have been back to Providence a few times, and I send Brown a little money now and then, but I have never attended a reunion. My fiftieth is coming up in three years. Maybe I should go. Reunions, of course, have to do mainly with undergrads. But I knew several undergrads as a chaplain, and one or two of them might be there. It's worth a thought.

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