Professor Russ Killingsworth remembered for his humor, patience, understanding

Kim See

A valued member of the SPU community passed away last Wednesday, Jan. 17.

According to an email sent by Provost Jeff Van Duzer, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Russ Killingsworth had suffered from chronic liver disease for many years, which took a turn for the worst over winter break.

“He had been under treatment at Harborview Hospital for several days at the time of his passing,” the email read.

Killingsworth joined the SPU family in 1996 as an instructor of mathematics and as a math lab coordinator, serving his students with patience and encouragement in SPU’s remedial math programs.

Assistant Provost of Special Projects Margaret Brown described Killingsworth as “a really kind and gentle soul who cared deeply for his students.”

Brown got the chance to know Killingsworth through the Veterans Cadre; he had served in the Navy for six years prior to returning to school to become a math teacher.

“He was a proud Navy vet and came alongside many student veterans over the years to provide expert mentoring, and assisted in cadre leadership as well,” she explained.

When the campus flag in Tiffany Loop was retired a few years back, Killingsworth saved the metal rings in the flag after it had been burned and gave them to Brown and Jim Rand, his co-leaders.

Brown still has hers on her keychain.

Sharon Young, professor emerita of mathematics and mathematics education, also recalls her time with Killingsworth, one particular event standing out in her mind: developing the Washington K-12 standards in mathematics, which were in place before the newer Common Core Standards.

Years ago, she suggested for Killingsworth to get involved with the Washington State Mathematics Council, a professional organization for teachers and professors that promotes improvement in mathematics in K-12 schools.

“Not only did he get involved,” Young says, “he became the president of the organization.”

She and Killingsworth often attended the same conferences for mathematics educators, and would often meet during the morning to discuss which sessions of workshops to attend; they wanted to split up to cover as many as possible.

In 2013, Killingsworth co-chaired the Northwest Conference held in Bellevue, which included 1200 teachers from Washington, British Columbia and Oregon.

He believed that the annual conference should be attended by his secondary education students, and he helped to make sure they were able to attend and participate every single year.

“I know the students personally gained much information from that experience,” Young said.

Professionally, Killingsworth’s focus was on mathematics education.
At SPU specifically, he focused on students who did not find math easy to learn.

He was available to help students, some of whom would spend hours in his office working through problems, both mathematical and personal.

Outside of school, Killingsworth was involved in the Boy Scouts of America as a scout leader and was awarded the “Silver Beaver” award for his years of outstanding service.

On Facebook, his troop, 449, in Renton, recognized Killingsworth as a “friend, mentor, and leader.”

Killingsworth had also always been interested in cars, Young notes.

“He has always had multiple cars and trucks at the same time, several of which were undergoing restoration,” she said.

She would often ask him, “Which vehicle today, Russ?”

Killingsworth had a good sense of humor, according to Professor of Mathematics Robbin O’Leary.

“Sometimes, he told jokes,” she remembers, “but more often he would make wry off-hand comments that you could miss if you weren’t paying attention.”

Killingsworth and O’Leary regularly had weekly “walking meetings” where they walked along the ship canal and discuss the math department of student issues, but they also took the time to share about their church and family life.

“Russ loved SPU, his job, his students, and teaching math,” she said. “But in our conversations, the center of his world was his wife, Dani, and his three, now young adult, children.”

Everything in his life revolved them, she continued.

“All that to say I’m really sad he’s gone from our community, and I’m really glad I got the chance to know him during this life,” Brown said. “I look forward to seeing him in the next.”

Van Duzer has noted that the school has been in contact with Killingsworth’s family and will keep the community updated on any information regarding a memorial service or other opportunities to honor Killingsworth.