Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Tribute to Molly Gustin Ph.D

Writing a book is one thing. When people write books about your books, thats when you know you've got something.

*EDIT* Added two quotes to bottom of post.

I ate lunch today with Mrs. Gustin. She sat down at the table I was at saying "I've been working ever since I was fourteen and tomorrow I'm retired" she is currently eighty five. A career that started filing papers in the main office of UCLA (which I imagine was rather small in the year 1937) has dabbled in Top secret classification work on rockets for the US army, and taken a tour writing field changing books on music theory (see the links concerning her book "tonality" below) but always returned to teaching, either math or music, at many colleges across the country.We ask her what she will do in her retirement and she responds "it took me twenty years to get back to California and I intend to enjoy it." apparently the rest of this week is reserved for the beach.

Today isn't the first time I've met Mrs. Gustin. Last year I would sit on a bench in front of my lab building and talk with her every Friday before class. Her memory is fading, so I was not surprised that almost every conversation would start with a discussion of my last name, "where do you get a last name like Shechet from?" She would ask before immediately launching into a theoretical answer to the question. I realized after a while that she did remember me, at least on some level, because she never gave me the same reason for where my name came from twice. This is part of whats so special about Mrs. Gustin. One of her students from years past, on her blog "Burn Cells Brained out" Puts it this way: "She is an amazing and brilliant woman (and has perfected intellectual eccentricity as an art form."(punkrockphilosopher) When I caught onto this game of hers I started playing it back, I discovered from her one week that she often uses her role book for scratch paper in math class, so every Friday I would ask "marked down any new equations as present in class today?" then we would discuss her math class (which was senior math, and almost completely beyond my understanding, but fascinating nonetheless.)

Today while I was sitting with her I realized her memory really is going. It's to be expected. I saw something else though. This woman compensates for her failing memory by tapping the absolutely amazing math mind she possesses. The process is something like the error checking used on todays computer memory. She would start a story, but realize that one of the pieces didn't work (e.i. she was telling us she broker her leg, but which part she kept getting confused on) so she brings in another memory and does a "sum" on them. She stopped her story in general and focused on her broken leg, bringing in the fact that it was strait out in front of her and always used to get in the way. So she put the two together and concluded her kneecap had been broken. This is a simple example, everybody does this on some level, but I saw it happening over and over again, lightning fast, in a brain full up with almost a hundred years worth of memories. Bring up two memories, cross reference them, move on. Telling about it doesn't really do it justice, you have to see the eccentricity, and see a mind at work that you can really believe would do that on purpose (or if not, had adapted itself so well to dealing), to realize how amazing it is.

We hear stories about Mrs. Gustin. sometimes from her. For starters I'm told that she met Einstein. Not just met, but told him "I think your a liar and a cheat". I would love to find out why but this is one story that when you ask her she just smiles and talks about something else. On the other hand, we have strait from her own mouth a tale of subterfuge and spy like action, in James Bond tradition involving underwear (ok, maybe its not just like in James Bond, read on). After four years intensive work designing an aircraft in a closed facility she snuck copies of the plans out of the building in her undergarments. The way she tells the story you would think she was working under cover as a spy but if you ask her why she just shrugs and says "I spent four years on them, I wasn't about to leave without some proof. I've still got them, they're fifty feet long unrolled." no wonder it took four years.

I really do feel bad that I will never have her for a teacher. I doubt I will meet many people in my life more amazing. My hats off to you Mrs. Gustin.

Oh, and some random links: a book which focuses on the review of two books, one of which is "tonality" by Mrs. Gustin. Mr. Tom Susanka's entire life was changed by Mrs. Gustin's class. A "rising star" composer (and alumnus) who tributes his knowledge of music strongly to Mrs. Gustin. an interesting article on music in the church. her book.

Molly M. Gustin

B.M., Indiana University, 1957; M.M., Indiana University, 1958; Ph.D., Indiana University, 1961; Tutor, St. John’s College (Annapolis, Santa Fe), 1962–67; Associate Professor of Music and Humanities, Park College, 1967–68; Associate Professor of Music, Portland State University, 1968–72; Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College, 1972–74; Associate Professor of Music, Portland State University, 1974–76; Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College, 1976–79; Associate Professor of Music, Portland State University, 1979–81; Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College, 1981–.

*EDIT* Forgot about these, people on campus reminded me.
"repeat after me all together now 'Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn." (Unknown class, Mrs. Gustin)
"I waited most my life to get old and its even better than I thought" (Mrs. Gustin to student at lunch table.)


Anonymous said...

What wonderful experience this woman has brought into your life! Best part is that you recognized her for the gem she is. You make your mother proud. Can't wait till you are home next week. Love, Mom

Jeremiah Graham said...

She really does sound like a very good teacher, you wrote a really good description of her. Now I want a biography...

Jen said...

If you link this post to the TAC alumni website, you'll get a flood of Mrs. Gustin stories and sayings. Her students either loved her or had their lives made miserable by her classes, but everyone respected her!

Thanks for this post; you dug up a lot of details I never knew about her, and I had her for three classes at TAC!

Anonymous said...

I always said if I get another tattoo it will be MOLLY in a heart on my arm.

I remember how she used to grab the sides of her head and shriek at my class "oh! you're all so dumb!" and furiously draw on the board to make us get it. She really cared about what she was teaching, and she had such a good nose for BS; she could tell the smart ones from the dumb ones, and the lazy ones from the hard workers, but what she really loved the most was someone who showed up with an open mind and was willing to participate. She was bitchy, biased, and snobby, but she was my favorite. At least she didn't sleep through class or recite answers to us. She was one of three females and one of the only non catholics-- but she admired catholics, and i pray that she will have a conversion one of these days. I know someone that dedicated to the truth belongs in Heaven.

she's also very very sexy.

Fiona S M Bernhoft said...


"Damn, I forgot my dinner!"