Like many Whitworth professors, Harry Dixon filled other unofficial roles in the lives of his students. He was a counselor, a father figure, a listener, and a comforting voice reminiscent of the actor Jimmy Stewart. But the man known as “Mr. Whitworth,” who taught for 24 years in the business & economics department, who established an accounting major, and who was voted “most influential professor” several times, imagined doing anything but teaching before coming to Whitworth in 1960.
At the beginning of World War II, when Dixon was earning a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he declined an offer to teach that would have protected him from military enlistment. “I told them I’d rather be subject to the draft than teach,” Dixon said. Many students who came to know Dixon might not believe that one of their favorite professors expected to die as an aerial navigator evacuating casualties from an anticipated deadly final invasion in Japan. That invasion never occurred, due to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Dixon went on to earn a Ph.D. in 1951, and he began a fulfilling career at Boeing the next year, with no aspirations to return to the classroom, as a student or a teacher.
But in the late 1950s, Whitworth began pursuing Dixon. “In a very accidental way I was asked if I knew of anyone at Boeing who had a Ph.D. who’d be willing to teach at Whitworth. . . my wife, Marjorie, really put on a bit of pressure for me to be open to it,” he said. Marjorie knew and loved Whitworth, having grown up in Wenatchee, Wash.
Dixon enjoyed his work at Boeing and, like his later career at Whitworth, he had become known to his coworkers as a counselor. He was particularly concerned about one of them, and part of his reluctance to leave Boeing was his knowledge that this coworker needed support. He nevertheless took a year-long leave of absence to try out Whitworth. He continued trying it out for four years, until he realized that he loved teaching.
From 1960-84, and as professor emeritus until his death, in 2011, Dixon found that his gifts were well-suited to support young people in a chapter of life that calls for extra affirmation and guidance. His sons, Dwight and Mark, and daughter, Miriam (“Mimi”), also attended Whitworth. “I enjoy college-age students, and like to relate to them as a whole person,” he said. “This tends to be true of all the faculty we attract. Vocational guidance is one of the most important things we can offer students. But the only way you can be effective is by getting to know them…share their insights…ask questions that help them sort out their interests and capabilities.”