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Obituary: Mary Helen Rasmussen

February 6, 2008

Professor emerita of music Mary Helen Rasmussen passed away peacefully at her Durham home on Jan. 26. She was 77 years old and had suffered from cancer intermittently since 1970.

A true polymath, she was a world renowned expert on the history of musical instruments and their representation in works of art. She was an active cellist and viola da gamba player, and in her youth had been an outstanding performer on the tuba and trombone.

She also was a conductor and an enthusiastic promoter of training young people in the performance of chamber and orchestral music, and had developed considerable skill in the repair of stringed instruments. Her scholarly articles and reviews have been published in several distinguished journals.

A recipient of Ford, Guggenheim and Fulbright grants for research, she had lectured at such institutions as Harvard, the University of Wisconsin and Boston University and at meetings of the American Musicological Society and the College Music Society.

Mary was born in Dover, in 1930, the daughter of Edwin and Florence Rasmussen. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in 1952 and then went on the University of Illinois, receiving a Master of Music in low brass performance in 1953 and a Master of Library Science in 1965.

For two years, she taught public school in Gorham, N.H., and was always proud that of the entire music faculty at UNH, she was the only member to have actually taught in the New Hampshire school system. She joined the UNH faculty in 1968 from which she retired in 1997.

Mary's teaching reflected the unusual scope of her interests, and was infused always with her high standards and expectations. She impressed undergraduates with the necessity for developing string programs in public schools, and inspired graduate students by her comprehensive knowledge as a research scholar. She was a passionate advocate for the UNH library.

Although music was her passion, Mary was proud of her athletic endeavors, particularly as goalie for the UNH women's field hockey team and as director of the Durham youth tennis program for many years.

She will be remembered as a specially gifted human being exhibiting a rare combination of intense independence, intellectual curiosity, strong opinions vigorously expressed, practical skills, sensitive personal insight, loyalty, neighborliness, and great courage in the face of adversity.

She is survived by her brother, John, his wife, Jane, three nieces and one nephew.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 5 at the Durham Community Church. Donations in her honor may be made to the Seacoast Cancer Center of Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, or to the charity of your choice.

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