The sudden death of physics professor Varghese Pynadath at the age of 76 Monday shocked the Fulton-Montgomery Community College campus, but few were as surprised as Matthew Snyder, one of his students.
“He never missed a class,” he said. “Never.”
Snyder sat with classmate Lucas Chapin in the stadium seating of the FMCC Theater Thursday afternoon with a few hundred other students, staff, family and friends of Pynadath to memorialize his life. As the place filled, the two still seemed in disbelief.
The two engineering majors had been in Physics II with Pynadath on Mondays and Fridays. He taught them about electrical circuits Friday, but never arrived Monday.
“The first I heard about it was when class was canceled,” Chapin said. “The very next period, we had a replacement teacher. That was weird — right away — but it’s what had to be done.”
Though both described Pynadath as a demanding teacher, both also said he was the best the college had to offer.
“He taught us just what we needed to know,” Chapin said, pointing out that after 46 years of teaching at FMCC, Pynadath hadn’t lost a step, right up until the end.
According to Christopher Swatt, a family friend and member of the college Board of Trustees, Pynadath had gone to the hospital over the weekend feeling a little sick “when his body just stopped working. He wore it out.”
When asked to describe the late professor, Swatt said he was a steady sort of guy, which was echoed by a string of moving testimonials from his co-workers. Words like “honor,” “grace,” and “professionalism” were in regular circulation, but most also pointed out his good sense of humor.
“He was the Dick Clark of FM,” said Fulmont Association of College Educators President Sharon Poling. “No one really knew how old he was. He was ageless. … Not only would he tell a joke, he would enjoy it as much as you did.”
In the back of the theater, Chapin recounted his professor’s dry classroom humor.
“He’d always tell us we could go out into space on the weekend and check our equations,” he said, laughing under his breath.
That doesn’t sound like a joke to a non-mathematician, but most early physics equations are hypothetical and remove factors like air resistance and gravity, so space would be the only place to actually test them. If he was the Dick Clark of the college, Pynadath was evidently the Dane Cook of the physics lab.
Many of the faculty members who spoke Thursday had been his students. Many recounted being hired by him during his years as a dean. All looked up to the man.
Impressions of Pynadath’s legacy seemed surprisingly consistent, from Chapin and Snyder to his longtime co-workers — a fact his son Joseph brought up at the end of the memorial.
“It’s a testament to how consistent my father was,” he said.
Varghese Pynadath had decided to retire at the end of the current semester. He never made it, which might be considered a sad end for the average professional, but people seemed uplifted by that fact.
“I always wondered if retirement would be good or bad for him,” Joseph Pynadath said. “Looking out here today, he really had two families. He had us and the college. I think retirement would have been hard on him, and that makes me smile on a difficult day.”
Varghese Pynadath was born in Kerala, India, in 1936, later moving to the United States for his college education. He started working at FMCC in 1967. He died Monday at Albany Medical Center.
He is survived by his wife, Rosy, two sons, David and Joseph, and a daughter, Elizabeth Serena.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at noon today at Holy Trinity Church in Johnstown. Spring burial will be in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Johnstown.