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
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
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.