The Great Professors
Thomas Gibb, Chemistry
One of the few female chemistry majors at Tufts during the late 1950s, Audrey Tesch Henderson, J58, hit an academic wall during her sophomore year. “I had discovered bridge, and I was singing and doing other things and considered dropping chemistry,” she says. She’d even received a dean’s letter warning “that I better buckle down,” recalls Henderson, who now lives in Connecticut. But her chemistry professor, Thomas R. P. Gibb Jr., wouldn’t hear of it. “He got me to realize how much I really liked chemistry and that I should not give it up just because of a bad month or two,” she says. “Dr. Gibb kept encouraging me. And I liked him so much as both a teacher and person that I didn’t want to let him down.” Henderson stuck with her major and made the Dean’s List.
For all his accomplishments as a chemist, researcher, and author—“Tom’s scientific career exhibits a versatility and diversity of effort which is accessible only to a talented scientist,” noted the Faculty of Arts and Sciences resolution upon his retirement in 1981—former students recall his dedication to their success. William Langworthy, G58, now living in Washington state, recalls: “Professor Gibb was my advisor for my entire Tufts career and thus party to my various intellectual infatuations. He was dedicated to whatever was good for me. And he was the first to treat me as an adult.”
Gibb, who died in 2009, graduated from Bowdoin College in 1936 and earned his doctorate in chemistry at MIT, where he taught for six years. In addition to his academic work, Gibb was a consultant for, among other things, the Manhattan Project during World War II. After a stint in the private sector, Gibb joined Tufts as an associate professor of chemistry in 1951. He was also a family man: one of his children, Roberta, who attended Tufts in the 1960s, went on to strike a blow for women’s participation in the Boston Marathon (see “Defiance”).
Former students remembered him long after his retirement and their graduation. Even in his nineties, “Tom was still living the life of the mind and remained courtly, congenial, and curious,” says Langworthy, who visited him during trips to the Boston area. “He made a huge difference in my life.” —Phil Primack, A70