April 11, 2024

In Remembrance: Darrah Chavey

A beloved teacher, mentor, and colleague, Professor Darrah Chavey passed away unexpectedly in January from complications of heart surgery. A professor of mathematics and computer science, Chavey was the college’s longest-serving tenured faculty member.

Darrah Chavey Professor Darrah Chavey was born in Flint, Michigan, and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan-Flint, and advanced degrees — a masters in mathematics and computer science, and a doctorate in mathematics — from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was 69.

He joined the faculty in 1987 and played a prominent role in developing the college’s computer science program. Generations of students remember him as a warm, generous, and passionate man who loved, among other things, geometric symmetry in cultural art, ballroom dancing, comics, and science fiction. He taught algorithms, software engineering, and web design, and was a certified ballroom dance instructor — a true renaissance man.

Darrah Chavey and Peggy Chavey Darrah Chavey and Peggy Chavey showing ballroom dance techniques at an event.Chavey and his wife, Peggy, met in 1979 at a square-dancing class. They shared their passion for dance, teaching classes in the community and at the college, and endowing a Beloit College student prize in dance. He also served as the faculty advisor for the ballroom dance club and the Beloit Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

Chavey used his mathematics knowledge to teach students how to see connections between mathematics, art, and culture. In 2007, he received the Phee Boon Kang’73 Prize for Innovation in Teaching with Technology.

“In addition to Darrah’s dedication to teaching, he maintained a research and publishing program in geometry,” notes Professor Emeritus Paul Campbell. “A few years ago, he published a paper with former students, finishing and adding to their work from 25 years earlier.” At the time of his death, he was working on a book on ethnomathematics — the study of the relationship between various cultures and mathematics — and specifically traditional games and geometric patterns. “He was the hardest working and best colleague I ever had,” Campbell says.

Fred Burwell, college archivist emeritus, recalls that Chavey was also quite a collector. “He loved to talk about his science fiction collections, and he often donated artifacts of Beloit College history that he bought on auction sites and elsewhere.” One of his last gifts to the archives was a copy of a typescript of the novel The Glass Inferno, co-authored by Beloit alum Frank M. Robinson’50, on which the blockbuster film “The Towering Inferno” was based.

Chavey remained committed to the college’s mission and its students, said Wisconsin State Sen. Mark Spreitzer’09. “Darrah was a larger-than-life figure. He cared deeply about his students and supported them in their lives outside the classroom in many ways. He didn’t just teach classes, he changed lives.”


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