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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Professor Profile: Jack Lutts

Courtesy of UMass Boston

Courtesy of UMass Boston

For the last forty years, Math Professor Jack Lutts has walked the halls of UMass Boston, witnessing the growth of a school, a city, a country, and most importantly, a family of his own. This time next spring, seventy-four year old Mr. Lutts will walk the halls for the last time and say goodbye to a campus and its students who he’s devoted more than half of his life to. There’s only one problem.

“My wife won’t let me bring home all these books,” says Lutts, who points back to two full walls covered with a life’s collection of wide ranging books. “They’ve been old friends through the years. I hope the library will take most of them in.”

With his silver hair neatly combed, Mr. Lutts strolls to class everyday wearing the same old lab coat and with a distinct enthusiasm and professionalism that breathes fresh air into the underground computer labs.

“It’s apples and oranges,” he’s said during class before, pointing at two different equations on the board. “You got a bowl of fruit, but you might also get indigestion.”

The chance to invigorate young minds has enriched Mr. Lutts’ life for generations, and in 2004 the school awarded him a service award. But the most important factor in the equation has always been his family. It’s a large equation to compute, considering the seven children he’s helped raise alongside his wife Ruth for 39 years.

The roots of the Jack and Ruth’s family reside in Boston, just down the street from UMass in Quincy, where they raised their seven kids. But before the family, before the marriage, before UMass and Boston all together, there was a young student from Baltimore and a high school geometry teacher who introduced him to the world of math.

Jack Lutts grew up in the neighborhoods of Baltimore, MD, raised by a Czechoslovakian mother and an Irish father. The 1930’s and ’40’s were a difficult time in our country, but Jack collected stamps and went to Saturday matinees (12 cents) like any kid. The same way today’s youth watches television, Jack sat by the radio listening to stories like the ‘Lone Ranger’ and ‘Inner Sanctum’ for hours. For work, Jack hauled groceries at his father’s grocery store, earning $12 a week.

Jack’s aspirations were like any young boy growing up, but one fateful year in high school steered him down the lifelong road he’s still on. During his sophomore year of high school, geometry teacher John Jay McCarthy brought a newspaper article on trisections of geometry into class and challenged his class to figure out whether or not it was correct. Like Indiana Jones, Jack took the article home and studied it for hours, coming to the conclusion that he had solved the problem. The next day he hurried to class and proudly exhibited the equation to Mr. McCarthy.

“Let’s just say I was a little off,” says Mr. Lutts. Nevertheless, a spark went off and ignited a new passion in him.

After high school, he took a brave step and left home for college. Jack’s step landed south, very south, in Mobile, Alabama. In 1952, the Jesuit college he attended, along with Mobile, were in the heart of the civil rights clash, and proved to be quite a stage for a young man from the north.

“It was scary being by myself,” he said. “Before I left home, my mother taught me how to iron my shirts and make a bed, all this stuff I’d never really done before. But now it was different. All of a sudden, I had all these responsibilities.”

The nervousness of being away from home and the tension from the times came crashing together one unforgettable night. An outspoken priest on campus had been openly challenging the segregation laws and speaking out for equal rights, which brought a response while Jack and the rest of the campus slept soundly in their dorms. A group of KKK members placed a tree-size cross on campus and set it ablaze, immediately creating a storm of chaos across town. When Jack heard sirens and screaming, he looked out his dorm window and saw the glow through the trees. For three days the school shut down while protests and media swarmed the small campus.

The lessons Jack learned throughout these important years were passed along to his family. After finishing up with school years later he moved to Boston where he met his wife Ruth, who teaches as well. One of Jack’s greatest memories is their wedding day, an eventful and dramatic day to say the least.

The temperature topped one hundred degrees that day. Outside the church, a crew from Boston Electric was working high atop the power lines while wedding goers funneled inside the air conditioned building. As Mass began, Jack sat nervously alongside family and friends. And then everything went black. Outside, the crew of electricians had blown the transformer and taken every last watt of power out of Mass. The church went suddenly silent, then gasped as if God himself had cut the ceremony short. Within seconds, the hot air from outside filled the room like a heater had been turned on, and the sweat started rolling down Jack’s forehead.

Jack’s father-in-law-to-be, who happened to work for Boston Electric for forty years, jumped out of his seat and stormed outside. After a few minutes, the commotion inside and out began intensifying and a cloud of uncertainty filled the room. But just as fast as before, the lights dashed on, and the air conditioners suddenly kicked back on, fighting back the fuming heat. The father-in-law-to-be came walking in and patted Jack on the back, whispering in his ear, “Didn’t mean to give you a scare there, Jack.”

The scare ended, though, but only for the time being. The vows remain strong to this day, but twenty-five years later another scare came into the Lutts’ lives.

In 1992, a blood test found that Jack had prostate cancer. The need for surgery was so severe that one month later, on him and Ruth’s 25th wedding anniversary, the surgery was completed successfully.

Other events that remain sacred in Jack’s life are the births of each of his children. Watching them grow up, teaching them life lessons, and helping them through hardships; the stories never end. There’s the family road trip of ’85, the separate universities and degrees for each child, the unique interests and hopes, the wide-reaching network of family and friends.

Jack Lutts can gaze out his little office window in the science building and reflect on a lifetime, a lucky and rightfully earned accomplishment. But first there’s that pile of homework to correct.