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Robert F. Witte

Robert F. Witte

Robert F. (Bob) Witte, age 66, a great friend of the MAA died October 3, 2005, following complications related to cancer. Bob was born in Lowden, Iowa, and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Iowa State University, where he met his wife Pat, and subsequently received an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He also served as a Captain in the United States Air Force.

During his nearly 40-year career with Exxon Corporation, he spent 22 years in Houston and Baytown, where their children grew up. He transferred to Dallas in 1992 as Senior Program Officer of The Exxon Education Foundation (EEF, now the ExxonMobil Foundation) until his retirement in 2000. While Witte was Senior Program Officer, EEF's support extended over several MAA programs and activities: Math Horizons, SUMMA, the Student Chapters program, publication and dissemination of A Call for Change, and the Distinguished Teaching Awards. His personal commitment and drive to improve mathematics education continued once he retired. He served on numerous boards and committees dedicated to this important objective.

One of the projects that Bob helped to develop and nurture is Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching), a program for new faculty. Project NExT is now in its twelfth year, and counts more than 800 Fellows to its credit. To say that he was enthusiastic about Project NExT would be an understatement. In his Leitzel Lecture at MathFest 2001, What I Have Learned from the Mathematics Community, he made clear his feelings about Project NExT when he said: "NExT is not just a new technique, a new curriculum, a new insight from research, although such resources are important. NExT demands sustaining the courage to question the status quo and the willingness to change the ways in which you fulfill, indeed, live out, your responsibilities. And in the most crucial ways NExT is the network you have created, the powerfully supporting network of fellows, mentor consultants, leaders, and directors."

In his lecture, he offered the mathematics community a challenging list of tasks for the improvement of education, laced with such wry observations as Witte's First Law of Productivity, which states that "If you work on the wrong thing, no matter how hard you work, you will never get the right answer."

From 1994 until his retirement in 2000, he keenly observed the progress of Project NExT. Fellows from those years remember the enthusiasm with which Bob participated in workshop sessions and the eagerness with which he conversed with them about their activities and aspirations. Without making himself the center of attention, he was always a vital and welcome presence at Project NExT events.

According to Professor Christine Stevens of St. Louis University, Director of Project NExT, "Even after his retirement, Bob remained deeply interested in Project NExT. He continued to read the messages on the Project NExT listserv, and, from time to time, he would send me a message. Sometimes it would be an observation about an issue in mathematics education, and sometimes it would announce the birth of a new grandchild. Often he would comment on some Fellow's contribution to the list and then add a comment like this: "I am sure he is a wonderful teacher. Makes me wish I could be in his class." Bob truly believed that the Fellows could change the face of mathematics education."

Bob's family was fully aware of his commitment to Project NExT, and asks that in lieu of flowers memorial donations in his honor be used to sponsor Robert F. Witte Project NExT Felllows. The MAA will acknowledge Witte's long-time support by designating one or more Robert F. Witte Project NExT Fellows each year. Plans to establish an endowment for this purpose are underway. Contributions should be made to the MAA, with a note indicating that the donation is to support a Witte Fellow, at 1529 Eighteenth St NW, Washington DC 20036.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Pat, their three children and four grandchildren: Beth, Frank and Lauren Apollo of Bellaire, Texas; Rob, Diane, Kyle and Ty Witte of Irving,Texas; and Alison, Gary and Karoline Beazley of Grand Prairie, Texas. He is also survived by his brother David Witte of Denver, Colorado, and an uncle, Ambrose Hoeger of Dubuque, Iowa.

A visitation will be held in Dallas at King of Glory Lutheran Church (6411 LBJ Freeway) from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 6th. The funeral service will be held at First Lutheran Church in Galveston, Texas (2415 Ave G) on Friday, October 7th beginning at 4:00 p.m. The family will also receive visitors in Clarence, Iowa at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, October 10th at Chapman Funeral Home. On Tuesday, October 11th at 10:30 a.m., a memorial service will be held in Lowden, Iowa at Zion United Church of Christ, followed immediately by the burial at the Lowden Cemetery.

News Date: 
Thursday, October 6, 2005