Devoted to his family and his hometown, he led by example

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


When he received his bachelor’s degree in 1995, Richard Wasson was 71 years old, the oldest person in UNH history to earn an undergraduate degree. He majored in political science, a subject that had always intrigued him.

His course work included a geology class field trip to climb South Mountain in Pawtuckaway State Park. Upon reaching the top, Wasson found that his youthful classmates had long since arrived, eaten lunch, and were about to hike back down. Without a break he turned around and went with them. “He was proud that he had climbed the mountain like the 20-year-olds,” says his daughter Deborah Schanda.

A World War II veteran, Wasson was an aviation machinist mate first class and a crewman on dirigibles throughout the war. After leaving the service he entered the shoe business, retiring 43 years later as comptroller and vice president of Miller Shoe Co. in Dover.

Wasson and his wife, Marie Therese, were married for 67 years before his death at age 90 on June 15. Spending time with family meant everything to him, says his daughter Carol Peck, recalling that his enthusiasm for vacations “was hard to resist, even for a reluctant teenager.” With six children, vacations usually meant camping wherever they could find a space, says Schanda. She remembers a morning in Hershey, Pa., when they were awakened by a golf course groundskeeper informing them they had set up camp on the eighth hole.

New Hampshire winters never slowed Wasson down. He loved piling everyone onto a toboggan, and after teaching himself to ski, taught several of his children.

Wasson’s interest in politics led to his twice being elected a New Hampshire state representative from his hometown of Rollinsford. Among other roles, he also served as Rollinsford’s town treasurer, chaired several nonprofit organizations and instituted a recycling program.

His unbridled enthusiasm continued throughout his life. He took flying lessons, golfed, sailed and gardened. He traveled to the Great Wall of China and via ski plane to the glaciers of New Zealand, navigated the hairpin curves of San Francisco’s Lombard Street, skied in the Swiss Alps, and explored historic sites from Maine to Mexico and Morocco.

Always a man of his word, Wasson led by example even as his health declined in recent years. In his late 80s he arrived one day at a road cleanup he had organized on Route 4. Few other volunteers showed up, but Wasson, undeterred, went to work. He had made a commitment to beautify the highway, he’d said, and he would keep it.


Originally published in UNH MagazineFall 2014 Issue