Professor Emerita Mary Rasmussen '52: A Tribute
April 7, 2010
Mary Rasmussen ’52 gave back to her alma mater in many big ways, but always quietly. She would scour the countryside for old and broken string instruments and, from the pieces of many, would make one whole so a student who might not otherwise be able to afford one, would have a string instrument to practice on in Paul Arts. When she passed away in early 2008, Mary left to the Dimond Library nearly $80,000, as well as a collection of books and music to the library and the department of music. The library was one of her favorite places on campus and one of her favorite quotations was from Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
When she died, the world had lost not only a great teacher and mentor, but also a true polymath: not only was Mary a world renowned expert on the history of musical instruments and their representation in works of art, she also was an active cellist and viola da gamba player, and in her youth had been an outstanding performer on the tuba and trombone. Her scholarly work was published in several academic journals.
Mary Rasmussen '52
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. Her magnum opus, Musical Subjects in Western European Art, was the focus of more than 20 years of work.
Mary was hailed as a self-taught musicologist of remarkable ability and accomplishment and amazing versatility, skilled in many areas of music-making and a tireless researcher in a wide variety of areas. She was a conductor and 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 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 graduated from UNH with a bachelor's degree in 1952, and then went to the University of Illinois, receiving a Master of Music in low brass performance in 1953, and a Master of Library Science in 1956. For two years, she taught public school in Gorham, New Hampshire. Her teaching and research career at UNH spanned from 1968 to 1997. But even after her retirement, Mary was frequently seen on campus and on Main Street, eager to stop and catch up on the latest news.
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 always 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, and great courage in the face of adversity. She is greatly missed by all who knew her, but her legacy lives on through her generosity.