Campus remembers math professor

Linda Partridge, a popular and valued VWC mathematics professor, died Nov. 20 of cancer. A memorial service for her will take place at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, in the chapel, according to President Scott Miller. A reception will follow in the dining hall’s Shafer Room.

Partridge taught mathematics at VWC for 27 years, from 1989 to 2013 as an adjunct instructor and from 2013 on as a full-time visiting instructor, according to Kelly Sprouse, administrative assistant to the provost at VWC.

Students and professors alike reacted with sadness and good memories of Partridge, speaking of how clearly she showed her caring for her students.

Junior math major Alexia Vassiliadis was a teaching assistant for her last spring, and wants to be a math professor.

“My mom is a math professor so I’ve always known I wanted to be one,” she said. However, she began to question whether she was really good enough. Partridge, Vassiliadis said, rejuvenated her confidence.

“She believed in me so much, so then I started to believe in myself again,” she said.

Her favorite memory of Partridge is that she would start off class meetings in Calculus II by asking, “How is everybody? Anybody have anything fun to share?”

Vassiliadis said what people should know about Partridge is how much she loved every student she knew. She would often still keep up with them after they finished her classes, and was interested in their lives.

Vassiliadis was able to visit her on a Friday a few weeks before she died. It was the weekend of the ODAC tournament which Vassiliadis, who is on the soccer team, would be playing in. Vassiliadis said that Partridge told her, “I have people coming [to say goodbye to me] on Saturday, but I’m still going to probably watch your game.” Vassiliadis said she was surprised Partridge was keeping track of the soccer team’s season. Partridge wanted to keep up with people’s lives. “She was asking me about our students, how they were. She genuinely cared,” Vassiliadis said.

She had a really sweet personality. She seemed like she made a big effort to make the subject understandable.

LeMar Callaway III, Junior math major

Senior Josh Simmons is a double major in math and German. When he took Calculus II with her in spring 2014, he was planning to major in German only, but she was “pivotal” to his eventual decision to add a math major, giving him the confidence that he would be able to handle it.

“Once you’ve had a class with her, she’ll come up and hug you,” he said. She was very approachable. Once she got a salad dressing mix and its package was in German. She got Simmons to translate it for her, and later told him, “That’s some of the best packaged dressing I ever had in my life. I stapled [the recipe] into my recipe book so I’ll always have it. Thank you.”

Partridge extended this friendliness to students she never had in a class, as well, such as junior math major LeMar Callaway III.

“I first met her working in the computer lab outside her office,” he said. They saw each other frequently there, and “just started talking.”

“She had a really sweet personality,” he said. “She seemed like she made a big effort to make the subject understandable.” He added that he wished he had had a class with her.

Kathy Ames shared an office with Partridge. She also taught the statistics class Partridge would have taught this fall. It started when Partridge asked the other math professors to get her classes started for her, but it soon “became clear she was still too sick to come back,” Ames said.

Kristin Burney taught the calculus classes this semester, and had been mentored by Partridge in previous semesters. For example, in fall 2013, they taught different sections of the same class. The friendship the colleagues shared is evident in Partridge’s office, where a bulletin board still hangs above Partridge’s desk. On it is a photo of Burney’s children, and a couple drawings of Partridge’s cat, in crayon, by Burney’s son.

Partridge was “in and out of the hospital” in recent months, Ames said, but math professors dropped by her home to visit her “probably almost every day.”

In previous semesters, it was sometimes hard to get much work done when they were both in their shared office, Ames said. They would end up chatting, whether about students or other things.

“She knew how to make the students feel special. They knew she cared,” Ames said. “And her favorite thing was to call them a rock star.”

Partridge taught math in the Norfolk public school system from 1985 to 2012, as well as teaching at Tidewater Community College from 2004 to 2012, Sprouse said.

Thomas Smigiel, now principal of Academy for Discovery at Lakewood and a Norfolk city councilman, remembered her fondly. He took three math classes from her at Norview High School and then taught at Norview with her as his department chair.linda-partridge-from-blake-partridge-1

“Linda had a spirit unlike anyone I have ever met,” Smigiel said. “She treated you like family. Some of us called her Mama P because she would take care of you like a mom…She loved to laugh, loved her Steelers and loved her students.”

Junior math major Matthew Kirkbride had personal experience of her football fandom. He was Partridge’s teaching assistant for Math 136, a calculus class. He’s a Patriots fan, which meant Partridge would needle him about football, as fans will. Although it wasn’t football season when he TA’d for her, she’d “find ways to bring it up.”

“She had a pretty strong personality,” he said, which was “entertaining.”

“She’d bring candy,” he said, and announce interesting little facts about cats at the end of class “to get the participation up a little bit.” She also brought snack cakes to class on Pi Day. He said he has never heard anyone say “I didn’t like her.”

“I could really tell that she cared about the students,” he said, because she would talk to Matt about them to figure out how they were doing learning the material. Knowing he was interested in becoming a math teacher, she talked with him about how the educational system failed some students, sending them to college less prepared than they should be for college math.

“It really saddened her when there were certain students who weren’t getting it. I’m sure that all professors really do care, but I’ve never seen one who made it that clear.”

Sarah Antozzi

(Photos: Blake Partridge | Courtesy)