Dick Gomulkiewicz passed peacefully surrounded by his family at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, Lewiston, Idaho from Mantle Cell Lymphoma. We are devastated yet grateful, as we remember a remarkable person.
Dick was born on February 26, 1962 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania to Nancy and Paul Gomulkiewicz. Dick was the third of four siblings, Mary, Robert (Bob) and Carol. Dick’s father was an electrical engineer with Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), taking their family to Pennsylvania, Veracruz, Mexico, Paramaribo, Suriname, Vancouver, Washington and finally to Wenatchee where Dick attended grade school and graduated high school.
Dick’s ironic sense of humor developed early in life starting with his nickname, “Dick,” a popular name from past generations. Sometimes Dick enjoyed playing “peacemaker,” deflecting conflict with humor, but he also enjoyed using irony to keep conversation lively around the dinner table. Dick was outgoing and loyal; as one longtime friend put it, “once you’re a friend of Dick’s, you’re a friend for life.”
Dick dabbled in piano, but trombone was his passion, playing everything from marching band classics to jazz standards. He enjoyed backpacking with friends (and Trombone mouthpiece) in the Cascades. He also loved sports – both playing and watching a “good game” (especially when WSU “Couged it”). He was especially proud of being the long snapper on punts and field goals for Wenatchee’s varsity football team. Dick joined the Wenatchee Youth Circus in high school, first playing in the pit orchestra and then starring on the double trapeze and as the catcher on the flying trapeze.
As undergraduates at WSU in 1983, Dick (trombone) and Susan (clarinet) met in the wind symphony. Dick’s smile caught Susan’s eye, and he confidently inquired of her, in Kimbrough Hall, if she “had a phone number.” He won over Susan’s heart with his non-judgemental values, love of music, and humor. Dick graduated from WSU in 1984 with a B.S. in Mathematics and went on to graduate school at UC Davis where he worked with Alan Hastings. While at Davis, Dick played in the orchestra, small ensembles, and took up cycling.
In 1985, Dick was one of two graduate students to work with Marc Mangel who explained, “I had received a big grant to work on salmon genetics. The goal was to identify, from samples taken from sea, whether returning fish were from the Klamath River stock (endangered) or from one of the hatchery stocks. This research turned out to be really accurate and set the groundwork for coast-wide use of genetic methods for identifying salmon stock.” “The salmon project,” as Dick referred to the research, led to a lifelong friendship with Marc.
In 1989, Dick graduated from Davis with a Doctorate in Applied Mathematics and headed to Austin, Texas for a postdoc with Mark Kirkpatrick, in Zoology. In 1991, Dick accepted a faculty position at University of Kansas in the Department of Systematics & Ecology. When not engaged in research, Dick cycled and golfed with his colleague and friend, Norm Slade.
Susan and Dick married in l994 and moved to Moscow, Idaho in 1996 when Dick accepted a joint faculty position in the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Genetics and Cell Biology at Washington State University. Dick was one of the founding members of the School of Biological Sciences when it was formed in 2000 and in 2017, Dick became the Associate Director for Graduate Studies for the School.
One of Dick’s closest collaborator’s, Bob Holt recalled, “Dick was not a glib academic who dashed off work, but a deep, serious thinker, who pondered problems for as long as needed until he had cracked and mastered them. He chose challenging problems and issues which require real intellectual depth and creativity for their resolution. His well-crafted papers are all models of rigor and have true staying power. He made contributions to a wide range of topics in fundamental evolutionary and ecological theory, often tackling deeply challenging technical issues that drew on his mathematical acumen.”
One of the most challenging problems Dick tackled has to do with the fact that the traits of organisms are not determined just by their genes, but also by the environments in which they reside. Understanding the consequences of the joint influence of genes and environments on trait evolution (‘phenotypic plasticity’) is an important dimension of his contributions to evolutionary biology, which he started working on with Mark Kirkpatrick as a postdoc at Texas, and continued on with many other fine scientists such as, Joel Kingsolver, Kim Hughes, Pat Carter, Nancy Heckman, and John Stinchcombe (among others).
Dick had a real appreciation for the subtleties of population ecology such as demography (patterns of births, and deaths) and complex interspecific interactions (e.g., between plants and herbivorous insects), demonstrated by his work on coevolution with John Thompson, Mike Hochberg, and Scott Nuismer. He also had an abiding interest in important applied problems with genetic dimensions, including in fisheries and agricultural systems.
One of his most important contributions was clarifying how evolution by natural selection could at times reshape the traits of a species so that it could persist following severe environmental change - a theme called ‘evolutionary rescue’. This adds an evolutionary angle to classical conservation problems. Dick began working on this topic with his (then) Kansas colleague Bob Holt in the 1990s, and continued making creative contributions through the years with him and others (such as Michael Barfield) for the remainder of his career. Even earlier this year, Dick and Bob were revising a paper on this topic, and looked forward to continuing to work together on related issues – which sadly will not happen. Holt said, “His bright intelligence and engaging presence will be sorely missed by his many professional colleagues and friends.”
Dick was passionate about teaching, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, supporting junior faculty, his research and rigorous discussions with colleagues and friends. Dick was an Honors College Faculty Fellow and was especially fond of his students in his Honors class, Philosophy of Science. His tremendous impact on students was succinctly summed up by WSU PhD graduate Ted Morgan: “Dick challenged me and mentored me in ways that helped shape me as a scientist, a professor, a mentor, and broadly as a human.”
While Dick was passionate about research, he was also an amazing, loving dad. Sam was born in Spokane in 1999 and Sophie and Ellie were born in Vancouver, BC in 2003. The kids acquiesced to Dick’s prolific dad jokes from an early age. Dick was silly, fun and despite his busy schedule, he was always there for the kids. He would make breakfasts and lunches on weekdays, he was a good listener, patient and involved with his children’s activities – hockey, gymnastics, environmental club and music. As a parent, grades were not the focus, but instead, finding passion in what you do was most important. Dick was looking forward to backpacking with Sam and attending his daughters’ jazz and big band concerts in college. He was at peace knowing Sam, Sophie and Ellie would have bright futures and make a difference - there was no father more proud of his children than Dick.
Dick was a voracious reader of history, politics, finance, philosophy and science; he enjoyed listening to podcasts in the mornings, while cycling and on road trips; a self taught handy-man with electrical and plumbing repairs - he did not shy away from new projects. He would say, “I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.” Dick was always up for new challenges the least of which was after their scottie, Dougal was sprayed by a skunk three times the summer of 2021. Under the tutelage of Jim Bull, he and Susan caught and released 5 skunks from their backyard with Heather Watt’s trap. In addition, when given the opportunity to officiate at the wedding of Susan’s sister, Sally and brother-in-law, John, Dick did not hesitate and obtained a Credential of Ministry, ordained, “Deacon Dick” May 8, 2022. The ceremony was filled with Dick’s personal touches, making it memorable for all. Like Dick said, “I don’t just preach, I like to teach” as he explained a geographical fact regarding the setting on Anderson Island. The preaching teacher was especially excited to say, “and by the power invested in me!” Dick and his mother-in-law, Bo, were jumble buddies and he loved spending time in Brown’s Point with her.
Dick enjoyed music from classical Bartok, the jazz of Joshua Redman, the new wave punk of David Byrne, the classic rock of Yes, the rock, jazz of Steely Dan, the jazz fusion, bluegrass of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, the jazz, R&B of Earth Wind & Fire, to the electronic hip-hop of Black Eyed Peas. Dick sang Black Eyed Peas, “The Time (Dirty Bit)” to the nurses at St. Joe’s who rewarded him with ice chips. Our family enjoyed spending time together listening to music, singing, playing, dancing, talking and laughing - we were most joyous when together.
Dick was also close to his siblings and looked forward to scheduled facetime and yearly family reunions. He loved their families, his 6 nieces and nephews and hearing about their lives. Dick and Susan enjoyed spending time together and never tired of each other after 29 years of marriage. They looked forward to retiring to the Puget Sound area where they would be closer to family, sunsets, beaches, kayaking, travel and more research and gardening – our love is forever.
Dick was preceded in death by his parents, Nancy and Paul Gomulkiewicz, he is survived by his sister, Mary (Nick) Dyer, brother, Bob (Andrea) Lairson-Gomulkiewicz, sister, Carol (Paul) Wooldridge, his six nieces and nephews and their spouses who all loved him dearly, his hons, Susan, three children, Sam, Sophie and Ellie and his canine buddy, Dougal.
Dick was taken from us on a high note – he had multiple trips and projects in the works, including attending one of his favorite meetings, EVO-WIBO this April, presenting at Mathematical Models of Evolutionary Rescue in Berlin, Germany this June and he was excited to spend time with his children, his extended family and was looking forward to cycling to and from work on the Bill Chipman Trail. Dick would want everyone to continue with your passions, not be discouraged and live life to the fullest.
We would like to thank the doctors, nurses and CNAs at Gritman Medical Center, Emergency Department and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center Progressive Care, Medical Surgical Unit and ICU – you make a difference in the lives of patient’s and their families everyday with outstanding care and compassion - we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Dick’s Celebration of Life will be held on May 13th at 4pm at Kimbrough Concert Hall on WSU campus. Please bring your sense of humor! If you would like to make a contribution to an organization important to Dick, please consider Park’s Activity Recreation Center or Science on Ice, payable to Palouse Ice Rink, PO Box 8023, Moscow, ID 83843 in Dick’s honor.
“There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone,
the light remains.” -unknown
You can join the service with this link;
Meeting ID: 916 6043 7015
Date & Time: May 13, 2023 04:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)