“Everyone knows that Howard Gage is a brilliant mathematician and a wonderful teacher,” said President Bill Robinson, a number of years ago. “But where I stand in absolute awe of Howard is in his love for God and his love for others. He is the campus guru on what it means to be a Christian.”
Gage, a 1962 alum, returned to Whitworth to teach math in 1969. He was soon a favorite among students because of his easy-to-understand, methodical ways of explaining complicated math concepts. “Everybody tries to get into his classes and loves having him as a teacher because he understands teaching and his students understand him,” said Sara (Moore) Glenn, ’97, one of Gage’s students and teaching assistants. “He does everything step by step, builds slowly, responds very well to questions. He can answer any math question you can come up with.”
Gage received Whitworth’s Faculty Distinguished Service Award in 1984 and 1989 – a rare double achievement. In addition to developing numerous mathematics courses, he led the way in creating Whitworth’s computer science program. When the college approved a computer science major in 1982, Gage, along with Randy Michaelis, ’74, Ken Pecka, ’80, and math professor Bob McCroskey, secured a $652,000 grant from the Murdock Foundation that funded academic computing and launched Whitworth into a new technological era.
Outside the classroom, Gage emulated the highest qualities of a Whitworth professor, as well. “When I arrived at Whitworth I was a confused international student, all alone,” said another of Gage’s students, Andy Lau, ’73. “Aside from all the things Howard did to help me succeed academically, he and [Gage’s wife] Judy took me under their wings and treated me like family. They were my family at Whitworth.” Gage served as best man at Lau’s wedding.
Whitworth was an extended family to Gage, too, particularly after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, in 1990. He continued to teach as his children, Brian, ’91, and Julienne, ’95, attended Whitworth, and as the disease, which stems from the destruction of the brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter, began to affect his walk, speech and small-motor control.
In 1994, during a sabbatical, he studied calculus reform, got interested in collaborative teaching, and started a faculty study group on pedagogy. He met with fellow faculty members, including psychology professor and chair Bill Johnson, who also suffered from Parkinson’s, and business professor Jay Kendall, who had multiple sclerosis, to help Whitworth with issues surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act, making suggestions from his own experience.
Gage’s Christian faith sustained him as medical treatments failed to slow the incurable disease. “I do not know how people face a chronic disease without a strong Christian faith,” he said. In 1995, five years before his death, he reflected, “I have a wonderful, supportive wife. My two kids have graduated from Whitworth and are out making a difference in the world. For the last 27 years of my life, I have had the chance to do exactly what I wanted to do, in exactly the place I would have chosen. How many people can say that? I know how blessed I am.”
Gage died in 2000, at age 61. The following year, his former students established the Howard Gage Memorial Scholarship in Math and Computer Science, in honor of one of Whitworth’s most beloved and influential teachers.