By Areeya Tipyasothi
The students of Geology 101 Section S2 knew something was wrong when they arrived to class on Monday, Oct. 3.
Their teacher, Professor Lars Gilmour, was nowhere to be found, a fact that grew even more concerning considering the lack of correspondence; there were no emails about him being sick, nor was there a note taped to the classroom door declaring a cancellation of class for that day.
It was a lab day, so class was supposed to be longer — around two hours as opposed to their usual hour. Some of the students left after only half an hour, unsure of the protocol behind having an absent teacher, but most were gone by the hour mark.
The next day came around and the professor was still missing. A group of students, now genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of their teacher, walked over to administration to report the situation.
“They were worried that he had gotten into an accident because he was a motorcycle driver,” said Professor Emanuela Agosta of the geology department. “He always came to school on his bike, so they were worried that something bad had happened.”
The students found no answers at the administration office — nobody there had heard from Gilmour, but now his absence was setting off some alarms.
Gilmour would later be found dead in his home. He had passed away in his sleep over the weekend at the age of 59.
“It was a shock,” Agosta said. “It was sad and it was a hard time going to the class to tell (the students).”
As the only other Geology 101 teacher for the quarter, Agosta wound up taking over her colleague’s class, a transition she described as “painful but inevitable.”
“He had made a really good reputation for himself at the college — there were students taking this class specifically because they had heard about him,” she said. “That’s something that takes a while to gain and he definitely earned that … He was an important part of our community here and it’s a huge loss not having him anymore.”
Gilmour had been working at Shoreline since 2014. He also taught courses at the UW, where he earned his master’s degree in geological and earth sciences, as well as his bachelor’s degree in earth and space sciences. His time on the geology circuit was marked by his long-term membership with the Northwest Geological Society, of which he was an active contributor.
But his contribution didn’t end there — he always made a point to be a positive influence on the lives of the people around him.
“He bought me chocolate at the beginning of the quarter because it’s hard to get started,” Agosta said. “He would just do these little gestures that were really friendly and helpful, but he would always present them in a funny way.”
According professors and students alike, Gilmour came off as both “straightforward” yet “very funny.”
“Even though he would make jokes sometimes, he would reiterate that his main goal was to make sure everyone could pass the class,” student Rebekah Friedberg said. “(But) it was about participation … and how engaged you were in the class, not just grades specifically.”
Even students who only knew Gilmour for the first two weeks of the fall quarter felt his impact, despite their short time together.
“I was telling him how my son really liked the meteorite he was passing around and he gave me a piece of it for my son,” student Lisa De Jong said. “I thought that was very endearing.”
“Those are pretty precious and expensive,” said Agosta about the meteorites. “LIke I don’t have a collection of meteorites myself that I could part with … It was just an example of how he would connect one-on-one with students.”
And that he did. Other students agreed that his way of connecting with them gave them even more encouragement to do well in the class amidst the responsibilities of home and work.
“I was kind of freaking out … It was the very beginning of the course and I was already missing days, so I wanted to make sure I was caught up,” Friedberg said. “He kept reassuring me that it was okay and that it was just like two assignments, and (he told me) not to worry about it.”
With the impact that Gilmour made on his students in a mere two weeks, they were left wondering about what could have been. Though goofy at times, his teachings occasionally dropped hints of being much deeper than expected, with some of his words speaking to students on a more profound level.
“He’s not the guy that’s just like ‘I’m going to teach you about rocks and evolution and stuff,’ to him it was more like telling a story, the story of the earth,” De Jong said. “That’s the kind of guy he was, he wanted to know what you wanted to do, what enriches you, what the meaning of life is for you.”
GIlmour strived for connection with the people around him, and even after being gone, he has still managed to inspire connections between his students.
“With all the negative parts that come with (his death), I felt like it actually bonded everyone in the class together,” Friedberg said. “We all share this really intense, emotional experience, so I feel like I have a bigger connection with everyone now.”