Richard Curtis Willmott
1930 – 2012
Born to missionary-teacher parents on March 19th, 1930 in Chungking, West China, Dick had a very active and fascinating life.
He came to North America with his family for a furlough year in 1936/37 and left China again for a second one in 1943, but due to the Second World War didn’t arrive here until 1944 and then remained to continue his education: a B.A. in Mathematics from Swarthmore College in 1952 and an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University in 1954. Canada, his father’s home country, was his next place of residence and for the following six years he worked at Canadian Marconi and International Syscoms in Montreal as a radio engineer. In 1960 he decided to return to his first love, mathematics, and came to the University of British Columbia to start the studies that led to a Ph.D. in 1965. For the next 25 years Dick did research in and taught mathematics at University College in London, England, l’Universite de Montreal in Quebec, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the University of Zambia in Lusaka, and the University of Essex in Colchester, England.
However, Dick’s academic activities were always interspersed with numerous other interests and pursuits. Being very athletic he played soccer and field hockey into his adult years, and was an avid rock-climber and mountaineer. Two of his adventures involved traversing Mt. Victoria in the Canadian Rockies and attempting to summit Mt. Waddington in the BC Coastal Range. Interested in airplanes from an early age he got his pilot’s license in his twenties, and later built and flew a small 2-seater Kitfox from Ontario to British Columbia. Dick was an excellent folk-dancer with a particular fondness for Israeli and Balkan rhythms and fancy footwork–both of which he taught, and along with two others he once graced Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage dancing as a Bulgarian. Also high on his list was choral singing, and from the early fifties until last Christmas Dick sang in numerous choirs–both large and small. Woodworking, travel and volunteering filled many a day after his retirement and move to Salt Spring Island in 1999, and it was here that he learned to identify numerous edible wild mushrooms, for which he loved foraging.
Over the years Dick’s thoughtful and inquisitive mind led him to think deeply about world events and to a lifelong opposition to racism, war, and social inequality. He cared about other people and the world we live in, and did what he could to better it.
On August 2, 2012 Dick died of gastric cancer at Salt Spring’s Lady Minto Hospital. He will be very sorely missed by his wife of 51 years, Jill; his children Ian, Michele, and Derek; and his siblings Joy, Don, and Bill. The family extends sincere thanks to Dr. Magda Leon, and the many palliative-care nurses and caring hospice volunteers who made Dick’s last weeks as comfortable as possible. There will be no funeral as per his request, but contributions in Dick’s memory to the Salt Spring Island Conservancy (P.O. Box 722, SSI, BC, V8K 2W3) where he was a volunteer for many years would be greatly appreciated. Carpe diem!