Fresno State math professor Thomas Kipps leaves legacy of hard work

The Fresno BeeMarch 19, 2014 

Retired Fresno State professor Thomas C. Kipps loved formulas, theorems, logarithms and non-linear differential equations.

The Battle of the Bulge Army veteran also had a fondness for camellias, fine music and hard work.

Mr. Kipps died March 10 in his Fresno home surrounded by family. He was 91.

Family members say Mr. Kipps loved to play Chopin and other classical pieces on the baby grand piano in the living room, pound out tunes on a harmonica around a campfire, and, as a scout master in the 1960s, lead Troop 88 on 50-mile hikes across the high Sierra while carrying a 95-pound pack.

They say he was instrumental in bringing the first computers to Fresno State in the 1960s and setting up the campus' first Computer Center where students waited in line with their Fortran punch cards to develop programs.

For decades, he helped organize the Central Valley Math Quiz, a competition sponsored by McClatchy Newspapers (owner of The Bee) that awarded scholarships to high school seniors. The competition ran from the late 1950s to the mid-'80s.

But his real claim to fame, his family says, was raising four children who took his example of hard work and love of learning to the highest level: Dr. David Kipps, 64, is a graduate of UCLA Medical School; Dr. Thomas James Kipps, 61, holds an endowed chair at University of California at San Diego in the Department of Hematology and Oncology and specializes in chronic lymphocytic leukemia research; Dr. Mary Louise Lindae, 60, has a dermatology practice in Fresno; and JoAnne Kipps, 56, is a civil engineer who is retired from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"We are all products of public schooling," Lindae said, noting that she and her siblings are Hoover High graduates.

His children also inherited his love of music: Tom and Mary play piano; David plays clarinet; and JoAnne plays piano, flute and guitar.

Mr. Kipps was born in Eureka City, Utah, the oldest of five children to Winifred and Albert Kipps. His mother was a homemaker and an accomplished pianist and his father was a mining engineer and pilot who flew to South America and the Yukon in search of gold.

In 1943, Mr. Kipps joined the Army Signal Corps and was a cryptographic officer stationed in France and the Rhineland. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and upon his honorable discharge in November 1946 as a first lieutenant, he had received several medals including the European Theater Ribbon with three battle stars.

"His job was to decipher codes and find hidden messages," Lindae said. "He told us he had to listen to static on the radio 18 hours every day. Because they had to crank it up, he said it hurt his hearing."

After the military, Mr. Kipps attended UC Berkeley, where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in mathematics and met his wife, Anne. They were married March 7, 1948. He first taught at the University of Santa Clara before moving to Fresno State in 1956, the year the campus moved to its present Shaw Avenue location.

He taught at Fresno State for 36 years before his retirement in 1992.

Mr. Kipps was a devout Roman Catholic and member of the St. Paul Newman Center since its creation 50 years ago. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, a ham radio operator for 75 years, and a world traveler who made pilgrimages with his wife to Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, Garabandal and the Holy Land.

He and his wife were members of the Fresno Camellia Society, which donated flowers to the Shinzen Friendship Garden and Woodward Park. They also opened their home to foreign exchange students, "some of whom to this day consider them their second parents," Lindae said.

Mr. Kipps learned he had Parkinson's around the time his wife, Anne, a registered nurse and Girl Scout leader, died on Jan. 9, 2009, at the age of 84. They had been married nearly 61 years. "It began with a tremor in his thumb," Lindae said. "My father succumbed to Parkinson's disease because of an inability to swallow. He did not wish for any artificial means (to keep him alive) and we honored his wishes."

She then thanked the nurses at Saint Agnes Hospice for making her father's passage at home peaceful.

Though Parkinson's slowly decimated his body, Mr. Kipps' mind remained sharp to the end, JoAnne Kipps said. His final foray into math research involved game theory (the study of strategic decision making), which he continued until a year ago when failing eyesight made it too difficult, JoAnne said.

She said her father, a tall man with huge hands and a firm grip, loved puns and remained upbeat. She recalled one day nurses had left him pureed pears to eat.

"Pops, would you like some pears?" she asked him.

"I only see one," he joked.

Mr. Kipps was released from the hospital before Christmas. When he left the hospital, he celebrated by playing Christmas tunes on a new Chromatic harmonica that Joanne had given him.


Thomas Charles Kipps

Born: Feb. 28, 1923

Died: March 10, 2014

Career: Retired math professor at California State University, Fresno

Survivors: children Dr. David Leo Kipps, Dr. Thomas James Kipps, Dr. Mary Louise Lindae and JoAnne Lorraine Kipps; brother Harry Kipps; sisters Haidee "Dee" Schlecht and Muriel Clausen; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren

Services: Visitation 3-5 p.m. Thursday at Whitehurst, Sullivan, Burns & Blair Funeral Home in Fresno, followed by recitation of the Rosary at 7 p.m. at the St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno. Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Paul Newman Center, follow by burial at St. Peter's Cemetery.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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