WSU Vancouver remembers Thomas Gazzola

Washington State University Vancouver lost a member of its family last month. Math professor Thomas James Gazzola, age 55, was removed from life support at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center after being struck by a vehicle while jogging near his home in northeast Portland the previous week. To date, a suspect has been apprehended and is facing indictment by a grand jury.

Gazzola graduated from Mankato West High School in 1977. He went on to graduate from Stanford University in 1981, and received his master’s degree in education from Stanford in 1982. Gazzola had a successful career in teaching English in the K-12 system, which he retired from in 2013. He joined the WSU Vancouver family as a math professor in 2014, and was recently appointed as the new director of the Quantitative Skills Center on campus.

Not limited to English, Gazzola also taught biology and a theory of knowledge class offered at Woodburn High School, an international baccalaureate course. Monica Kincaid, now the head secretary at the Academy of International Studies, was one of Gazzola’s first students at Woodburn High School. She recalls how he used to perform sleight of hand and card tricks to get the attention of bored students. Kincaid said she still fondly remembers how he received a phone call during class from the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” inviting him to compete in the televised quiz program.  Gazzola had also previously been a contestant on the long-running game show “Jeopardy.”

Gazzola was active in the trivia and puzzle community in Portland, leading a 40-person team named “The Luck, I Am Your Father” to victory at the MIT Mystery Hunt in Boston in January. A man well versed in different subjects, he was licensed in advanced math, biology, social studies, language arts and psychology. Students and staff at WSU Vancouver have spoken about Gazzola, saying that he was fun, adventurous, courteous and kind and passionate about teaching.

Gazzola was a teacher who wanted to make a difference in students’ lives, he once said about teaching: “Teaching is a monstrously challenging puzzle. I have 31 people in my calculus class. There are 31 ways of thinking in there. How can I reach each one of them?” Many people who were associated with Gazzola had only wonderful things to say about him. The students he reached used phrases to describe him, like “best professor ever” and “favorite teacher.” His daughter, Liz, wrote about him: “More than anything, he would want everyone to be happy, to keep enjoying life, playing games, holding your loved ones close.”

He is survived by his wife, Kimberly Goslin, his 20-year-old son, Clark, and his 19-year-old daughter, Liz. The ALS Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington will accept memorial donations in lieu of flowers.

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