Beloved Professor of Mathematics Leaves Lasting Legacy with Substantial Bequest

Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher was Trinity's First Female Faculty Member

Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher 

Hartford, Connecticut, July 13, 2016 – Trinity College has received a substantial bequest from the estate of Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher, professor of mathematics, emeritus, who was the College’s first female faculty member. The gift will establish two endowed positions dedicated to mathematics and Chapel music, along with an endowment to provide for occasional major work to maintain the Trinity College Chapel’s pipe organs in prime condition.

Butcher, who passed away in April 2016, and her husband, Robert W. Butcher, who died in 1993, shared dual passions for applied mathematics and chapel music. The John Rose College Organist-and-Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music is one of the endowed positions created by Butcher’s planned gift; she named this chair in honor of John Rose, College organist and director of Chapel music at Trinity since 1977. Rose is the first to hold the chair.

The second position created is the Marjorie V. and Robert W. Butcher Distinguished Professorship in Applied Mathematics. Butcher and her husband met during graduate study and actuarial teaching at the University of Michigan. Hartford was destined to become their home city as much by virtue of her Trinity teaching career as his with the Travelers Insurance Companies. For more than 30 years, he worked for Travelers as a life, pension, property/casualty, and research actuary. Both were boosters of the liberal arts tradition at Trinity and felt that the College’s already robust Mathematics Department could be even stronger if a larger applied mathematics component were present. As actuaries and educators of actuaries, they shared the belief that future actuaries should have a broad liberal arts grounding and that other undergraduates would benefit from exposure to applied mathematics concepts and reasoning.

At the June 10 memorial service held at the Trinity College Chapel in honor of Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher, Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney was among those who spoke in tribute to the much-admired educator. “During her 33 years of teaching at Trinity, Marjorie Butcher’s goal was always – in her words – to ‘try to convey the elegance of mathematics,’” said Berger-Sweeney. “Clearly, she accomplished that mission extraordinarily well, as attested by the generations of former students who have gone on to successful careers.”

Berger-Sweeney added, “Equally important, she also shared her passions and sense of commitment with students and the Trinity community, awakening the potential in young scholars and contributing to the fullness of our liberal arts environment.”

James F. Jones, Jr. H’14, president and Trinity College professor in the humanities, emeritus, also shared his reflections at the memorial event, relating favorite stories of Butcher’s dedication to her students and recalling the day she confided her intention to establish the endowed positions at Trinity. Excerpts of Jones’s remarks, reprinted recently by The Chronicle of Higher Education under the title “Chalk Dust on the Sleeve of Her Soul,” are published online here.

Other Trinity community members who eulogized Butcher included Professor of Mathematics David Mauro and Borden W. Painter, Jr. ’58, H’95, president and Trinity College professor of history, emeritus.

Butcher taught at Trinity from 1956 until her retirement in 1989. A Michigan native, she received both her B.A. (1947, Phi Beta Kappa) and her M.A. (1949, actuarial mathematics) from the University of Michigan. In 1979, she earned a full professorship, the first woman at Trinity to do so. Upon retirement, she remained an active member of the Trinity community and attended numerous lectures and events on campus, with a particular affection for Rose’s organ performances, plus those of his students and of visiting artists.

In 1991, Trinity’s Student Government Association commissioned a portrait of Butcher – which hangs in the Roy Nutt Mathematics, Engineering & Computer Science Center – to commemorate coeducation at Trinity and the important part Butcher played as a role model for Trinity students. The College celebrated Butcher’s 50 years of service to Trinity in November of 2006, and at Trinity’s 2009 Commencement, she was recognized with an honorary doctor of science degree.

Butcher was predeceased by her brother, Donald Van Eenam, in 2005. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Maxine Van Eenam; her nephew, Peter Van Eenam; a niece, Carol Van Eenam; and two grandnieces. 

Written by Kathy Andrews
Photo by Nick Lacy