Memorial Minute

Frank Trafton Gutmann


George Albert Wentworth Professor in Mathematics and Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Emeritus

From Frank’s early days as a student to his retirement days living in Exeter, his heart and soul were with the Academy. Of his very many contributions to the school, two areas stand out: Math and Crew. An Academy graduate in 1952, he won first prize in the Advanced Math competition and, with his crew teammates, traveled to Helsinki, Finland to compete in the Olympic Trials.

After degrees from Amherst, Yale and Bowdoin, Frank returned to Exeter in 1959, serving as dorm head and leading the Math Department from 1987-1991. In a letter appointing Frank as the George Albert Wentworth Professor of Mathematics, Principal Kendra O’Donnell cited his “patience with novices, whether on the Squamscott or in the classroom or-most remarkable of all-in the labyrinthine negotiations of committee work.” As chairman of the Budget Review Committee, Frank brought level-headedness to discussions and fair recognition to all points of view. The same could be said for his committee work on Faculty Affairs, Advanced Placement and Health Policy. Frank also served as Director of Student Activities and as the Financial Advisor to the Exonian. In every one of these varied roles, Frank’s graciousness shone through. Colleagues have described him as a gentleman and a gentle man – modest, sincere, thorough and honest.

In the Math Department, Frank was the go-to guy for any question on Geometry. He knew of beautiful results that most had never heard of, like Fuerbach’s theorem which stated that a triangle’s 9-point circle is tangent to four other special circles. It is when discussing such beautiful mathematics that the usually deliberate, soft-spoken Frank would raise his baritone voice and become excited and animated.

Frank’s license plate number was 271828, his way of advertising the first six significant digits of the most important number in Analysis. Those who knew of his penchant for precision were not surprised when he took a permanent black magic marker and inserted a decimal point between the 2 and the 7.

As a student, Frank sang with the Academy and the Amherst College Glee Clubs. As an Exeter resident, he sang with the Rockingham Choral Society and with the Portsmouth Pro Musica, a friendship chorus that traveled to China and Eastern Europe. It was always easy to spot Frank in the back row of the choir, towering over his fellow singers.

Frank loved the outdoors. Born in Maine, he canoed, skied and hiked from an early age. As a teen, he learned how to repair a birch bark canoe and in his 70’s he learned the skill of canoe-poling. Not only did he climb all the White Mountain peaks 4000 feet or higher, but he could identify them by their silhouettes. He lead the Academy’s Outing Club on many weekend adventures, including mountain climbing and sometimes on snowshoes. He delighted in coaching crew no matter how foul the weather or how unfavorable the tide. He once rowed a 4-man dory down the Colorado River, surviving two class-10 rapids. Most people who go through the Grand Canyon on the river, do so in a large, motorized rubber raft. Few have the courage and the strength needed to navigate a wooden dory.

Among Frank’s many skills were photography, carpentry and a little bit of unusual chemistry. He took four trips to Iceland to photograph its geological wonders. He helped a colleague plan and build a cabin in the northern New Hampshire woods of which the foundation, framing and roof were all executed with his usual precision. As for the fierce black flies, Frank concocted a chemical bug dope that kept the flies away when in the woods and the people away when in the town. Here was social distancing 50 years before it became stand practice.

Frank also was a clever harvester of wild, low-bush blueberries. He made a small rake which made the berry collection fast and easy-on-the-back, but with the drawback that his berry collection bucket would also fill with leaves. He solved this problem by slowly pouring the leaves and berries down an inclined window screen. The berries rolled to the bottom while the leaves stuck to the screen.

Frank’s love of the outdoors he passed along to his wife, Lois, and their children, Tim and Cynthia, both Academy graduates. Frank and Lois were instrumental in planning and overseeing the construction of the Riverwood’s Retirement Community in Exeter, where they spent their retirement years. They would come to Academy concerts, lectures and crew races, and they would continue singing in the Rockingham Choral Society. Frank always attended the end of year Mathematics Department party right up to the last years of his long life. He was excited to meet and chat with our current generation of math teachers. All of us, whether we knew him 40 years or 1 year, felt honored and privileged to be his colleague. And of course, Frank would continue to row. Well into his 80’s he would go to the boathouse in his L.L. Bean plaid flannel shirt, ease into his old wooden single scull and leisurely row…at peace on the river he loved so much.

With gratitude to Eric Bergofsky for presenting in my absence, I move that this Memorial Minute be submitted to Frank’s family, and be spread upon the minutes of the faculty.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard Brown, Instructor in Mathematics,

Emeritus lead writer for the Math Department