Math professor Rudy Gordh retires after 42 years

It was just another day in Calculus. Right as I thought I might zone out, Professor of Mathematics Rudy Gordh, whipped around to face the class and in one motion unbuttoned his shirt to reveal another math problem written on his undershirt while exclaiming, “And if that equation is not enough for you, try this one.”

Gordh began his history at Guilford College as a student from 1962 to 1966 and then returned as a faculty member in 1974. He has been committed to the college, his students and his colleagues throughout his time here.

“Both of us were delighted to return since our own undergraduate experiences were so positive at Guilford, and we hoped that we might continue to work with students the ways in which our teachers and mentors at Guilford had worked with us,” said Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Elwood Parker ’64.

Gordh chose Guilford for undergraduate because of the small-college-community feel and the opportunity to get more involved with music and sports, but it was his career and lifetime affair with math that really took hold at Guilford thanks to various mentors.

“J.R. Boyd had recently come to Guilford, and he wanted to get students working on more advanced mathematics, making it possible for people to go on and be mathematicians, and he did tremendous amounts to push us, including me,” said Gordh. “I knew upon leaving Guilford, Boyd would not just be a professor to me but someone I kept in contact with for the rest of my life.”

Upon graduating from Guilford, Gordh went on to get his Ph.D. from the University of California Riverside, and he later spent a year studying in Yugoslavia. While there, he got a call from J.R. Boyd who informed him of an open position that ultimately lured him back to Guilford.

Gordh had never imagined he would end up at Guilford once again, much less that the friendships he had cultivated would continue to last and be such important aspects of his life.

“I continue to enjoy the very close interaction with a number of students and fellow professors, some who ended up being very close companions of mine,” said Gordh. “When I got remarried in January, I had a number of friends from college come back from as far as Seattle to attend.”

Gordh’s experience at Guilford attests to the communal atmosphere the College creates among the student body. Recently, Gordh ran into a friend from college who urged him to reach out to another student from their class.

“I doubted he would remember me after 50 years, but eventually, I called, and he answered and right off the bat goes ‘well howdy, stranger,’” said Gordh. “Since then, we have begun playing music together every Wednesday; nothing serious just having a good time.”

Gordh not only forged multiple everlasting friendships but, once returning to Guilford, impacted his department and students for the better.

“I often have to describe to students who Rudy is so they can spot him, and the thing I always say to them is ‘if your grandfather was a mathematician, that would be Rudy,’ and they can always find him,” said Associate Professor of Mathematics Ben Marlin. “(There is) just the notion that he is very open and gentle. I feel like the department will lose a little something when he retires.”

Gordh is always available to help and is fully committed to his students and work.

“He freely shared his love for his discipline and his respect for people, which seemed evident every time I met with him,” said former Academic Dean Adrienne Israel. “I experienced him as a calming presence and someone I could depend on for an honest response to complex issues and challenging problems inside and outside the academic arena.”

The notion of Gordh as a calming presence was shared by many.

“When you work with someone for over 40 years, you learn each other’s thought processes, means of approaching and solving problems, even idiosyncrasies,” said Parker. “Rudy and I did that.

“He was, for me, very often a source of thoughtfulness and calm about what was occurring at Guilford.”

Gordh has collaborated with students on publishable work, acted as the clerk of faculty and increased the availability of math-based scholarships to many Guilfordians.

“Many generations of Guilford students have benefited from studying with Rudy,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Beth Rushing. “We’re lucky to have had him for all of this time and wish him well.”

While I may never have solved the math problem on his shirt that day, I will forever carry with me an appreciation for Gordh’s hand in strengthening my math base in a painless fashion.