Harry ‘Jim’ Pastra-Landis

Harry Harry “Jim” Pastra-Landis, Wheaton professor of physics emeritus and the husband of Professor Elita Pastra-Landis ’69, died April 28. He was 87 years old.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, Jim began working in Wheaton’s Department of Physics in 1953 and served as head of the department for 40 years, until he retired in 1992.

When he began, he taught all courses in physics that the college offered, from the introductory to the advanced level. He also served as part-time assistant dean of the college, providing academic counseling, from 1964 through 1967.

From 1965 to 1968, he participated actively in the design of a government-funded college-level course in physical science. A pioneer teacher in many ways, Jim developed the course “Solid State Electronics” for majors in physics that was inspired by his years as a research consultant for Texas Instruments (formerly in Attleboro, Mass.), from 1953 through 1966. Six patents bear his name.

Jim crossed disciplinary barriers long before this was a common practice at Wheaton, initiating a type of First-Year Seminar in 1972, in which students studied both physics and philosophy. Collaborating with colleagues across campus, he also taught “The History of Science” in the early 1980s and developed the course “The Sound of Music,” which explored the scientific basis of music for non-majors.

In addition to his involvement at Wheaton, Jim was engaged in town-related issues in Norton, Mass. He was a member of the Norton Finance Committee from January 1962 until July 1978, serving nine and a half years as chair of the committee.

Wheaton Professor of History Emeritus Paul Helmreich, who served on the finance committee with Jim and also co-created the interdepartmental course “Social History of Technology” with him, recalls his good friend fondly as an avid gardener and a fine cook.

“The thing I remember most about Jim is that in everything I ever saw him do he was the most unflappable person I have ever met. He was a thoughtful and reflective person, not given to rapid-fire speech or emotional commentary, always operating on a even keel,” said Helmreich. “Possessed of a wry, though quiet, sense of humor, he always thought carefully before he spoke, and was a master at the art of finding workable compromises when faced with a group that expressed a wide degree of varying opinions. I saw that time and again both in his work at Wheaton and in the Norton community…. I shall remember him as a warm, caring, thoughtful and talented individual who worked long and hard for the betterment of both Wheaton and the Norton community, and who I was fortunate to have had as both a colleague and a personal friend.”