Harry Houff

Harry Houff, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), recently of Richmond, Virginia, passed away peacefully on Jan. 9, 2020. His gentle manner and dry wit will be missed by all who knew him. Harry, a long-time resident of Martin was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1939. As a young child, he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he graduated from Cathedral High School. After graduation in 1958, he studied physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he earned a PhD. In 1969, he moved his young family, wife Alice, children Kathleen, David, and Joanne, to Martin. He was appointed chair of the newly-formed Geosciences and Physics Department at UT Martin where he was instrumental in the creation of the department and the hiring of its initial faculty. He chaired the department for many years and taught physics until his retirement in 2000. Harry and Alice made Martin their home. While at UTM, he pioneered science education programs for local high school science teachers, including summer water studies at Reelfoot Lake. Harry was active in the community and his church. He coached little league, was president of the Westview High School band boosters, and was an active member of the Kiwanis Club. Harry and Alice were founding members of St. Jude the Apostle Parish, the first and only Catholic Church in Weakley County. As St. Jude’s finance chairman, Harry worked tirelessly with others to raise funds to build St. Jude’s, now standing on Hannings Lane in Martin. Harry was an avid outdoorsman, camper, hiker, and traveler. His adventures took him to many national parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as countless state parks across the country. He took his family hiking on portions of the Appalachian Trail, down the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and numerous other trails. He and Alice enjoyed international travel, especially to Europe, where Harry’s fascination with the ancient world led them to Greece, Italy, Turkey, and beyond. Being outside was one of Harry’s greatest pleasures. Even in the last years of his life, when hiking was no longer possible, he enjoyed sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee in the morning, watching the birds and the deer. Harry was an avid reader. His bedside table often held four or five books he was actively reading. He could be seen reading everything from spy novels to ancient history to quantum physics. He enjoyed time with his friends, largely fellow professors at UTM. This fun-loving group, “The Science Club,” met regularly to share jokes and play poker. All who knew Harry knew that he was a man who appreciated the merits of a fine dirty martini, ideally with Beefeater Gin, a whiff of vermouth, and extra olives. During his travels, he often rated hotels by their ability to make a martini to his liking. After lugging a thermos of martini fixings into the Grand Canyon, he noted that watching the sunset with a drink in his hand was very civilized indeed. Harry and his wife took up golf later in life. On a whim in 1996, they built a small putting green in their back yard. Soon, they expanded that single green to a par-3 golf course that crisscrossed their property, which they dubbed Houff Hills. They mowed grass all morning, and then played a round in the evening. They enjoyed hosting their friends in the afternoons for informal gatherings and for an annual New Year’s Day Scramble. Houff Hills saw the celebration of Alice and Harry’s 50th wedding anniversary on July 4, 2013. Harry and Alice, along with family and friends, celebrated with dinner, drinks, and a round of golf. The family would like to thank the kind staff at Sunrise Memory Care in Midlothian, Virginia, for their kindness to Harry over the last six months. Thanks, too, to the kind assistants at Care Advantage health care. Special thanks go to Yvette Welch, whose kind, gentle manner was a gift to Harry’s family. He is survived by his wife Alice, his children Kathleen (Christopher), David (Martha), and Joanne (Alva), and his grandchildren Elizabeth, Ellen, Alexander, William, Dagyn, and Thomas.= Harry is preceded in death by his parents, Dorothy and Harry; and his brother John. Funeral mass will be held at Christ the King Catholic Church, 5884 Crittenden Ave., Indianapolis, Indiana, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 17, with visitation at Feeny-Hornack Keystone Mortuary, 2126 East 71st St., Indianapolis, Indiana, 46220, on Thursday, Jan. 16, from 5-8 p.m. The family will also welcome visitors prior to the mass at the church at 9 a.m. Internment will follow at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis. The family welcomes all friends and well-wishers to the funeral mass in Indianapolis but realizes that this trip is a distance from Martin and so may be difficult in the winter season. A remembrance service in Martin is planned for a later date. In lieu of flowers, a memorial gift is requested to the Harry P. Houff Scholarship Endowment Fund, at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Send gifts to Office of Development, 329 Administration Bldg., 554 University Street, Martin, TN 28238.

1 Comment

  1. Angeline Sanders Nichols on January 15, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    Dr Houff was my boss several years at UTM. He was a great boss. I remember giving him a cup that said “If you don’t know the answer, question the question.” He used it all the time I worked there. He never wanted his coffee cup washed. He said washing it would wash out all the flavor of the next cup.
    Knowing him and Alice was a pleasure. I will always regret leaving UTM when I moved out of state.

Leave a Comment