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It is with great sadness that I share with the campus community news of the death this past Sunday of Shirley Hockett, Professor Emerita of Mathematics and one of Ithaca College’s most steadfast and enthusiastic supporters.

Shirley already had two decades of teaching experience at Cornell behind her when she joined the IC Department of Mathematics in 1966. She was named a full professor in 1973, and shortly after her 1991 retirement she was honored by the Board of Trustees with the title of professor emerita.

Throughout her career, Shirley was regarded as an exceptional teacher who challenged her students. She won several teaching awards and was the founding president of the college’s chapter of the national honor society Phi Kappa Phi.  She was known to her colleagues as someone to talk with about teaching challenges, and always shared her insights freely. 

Shirley’s first book, published in 1971, was titled How to Prepare for Advanced Placement Examinations: Mathematics.  Its 12th edition was released earlier this year.  She wrote or coauthored several other textbooks and served as editor of the New York State Mathematics Teachers’ Journal from 1969 to 1974.

Though Shirley didn’t begin studying to play an instrument until the age of 57, music was always an important part in the life of her family. Shirley played alongside her late husband Chas, a fellow flutist, in the Ithaca Concert Band.  Both were active with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra and Shirley, who was president of the board of directors from 1979 to 1984, was later named director emerita.  One of Shirley’s greatest points of pride was that she and Chas were able to give the gift of music to their five children. 

Shirley and Chas were major supporters of the campaign to build the James J. Whalen Center for Music, which opened in 1999. The Hockett Family Recital Hall was named in recognition of their significant contributions to the School of Music, as was the Shirley and Chas Hockett Chamber Music Concert Series.  Chas died shortly after the inaugural concert in the fall of 2000, and Shirley provided a permanent endowment for the series and established the Charles F. Hockett Music Scholarship in his memory. That scholarship is awarded annually to an outstanding student in the School of Music who is majoring in composition.

I was privileged to know Shirley during the last years of her life as a woman of sparkling wit whose repartee kept everyone around her on their toes.  Her love of family was palpable, and her generosity of spirit led her to embrace my family in a way I will never forget.  On behalf of the entire Ithaca College community, I extend our deepest sympathies, as well as our thoughts and prayers, to Shirley’s family and to her many friends, colleagues, and former students. A celebration of Shirley’s 93 years of life will be held on campus in the spring, on Saturday, April 12, at 4 p.m. in the Hockett Family Recital Hall.


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