No professor has accumulated more funny (and often sweet) stories than math professor Dr. Donald Tillotson. During the final months of his life, former students sent him encouraging reminiscences, many containing some of those stories.
He was an inveterate chalkboard user, living in a veritable cloud of chalk dust.
One morning shortly after his 8:30 class began, an alarm went off. Dr. Tillotson presumed it was a prank and summoned the students to look in all the likely places, including wastebaskets and the professor’s desk, but the alarm continued. He resumed teaching over the buzz, then suddenly stopped when he remembered that he had not had time to shave before he left and had put his battery-powered shaver in his jacket pocket. He’d evidently bumped the on switch. Unfazed, he turned the shaver off and continued class.
He was an inveterate chalkboard user, living in a veritable cloud of chalk dust. His jackets were always sprinkled with yellow chalk (since he was impatient about looking for erasers, he often wiped the board with his jacket sleeves). He did switch to overhead projectors later in his teaching career, writing on cleared x-ray film with bamboo soft-tipped pens. But he mentioned more than once that he thought it would be appropriate for him to be buried with a piece of yellow chalk in his hand—and so he was.
He frequently used chalkboards to write proofs. More than once, his students report, he’d fill one board and, with hardly a pause, move on to the next, which sometimes required turning a corner and resuming on the next wall. Some witnesses claim he occasionally wrote right off the board and onto the wall itself. One time he was so engrossed, that he stepped into a wastebasket, tried to shake it off without success, and continued clomping along with the wastebasket on his foot until he finished his proof.
He enjoyed solving problems and completing proofs. Pre-med student, Ercil Bowman, and a friend were working on a physics problem for Dr. Gilbert Ford. They succeeded up to a point and could go no further. They spotted Dr. Tillotson in his office eating his usual sack lunch and asked him about the problem. He launched into a proof, explaining as he went, and sent them to their physics class, proof in hand. Unbeknownst to the students, Dr. Ford had deliberately constructed the problem so they couldn’t solve it until they got information from that day’s class, so he was surprised at his students’ success.