In classes or on his own, Thomas Reid Crowder studied some 15 languages, including Spanish, Arabic, French, Russian, Chinese, and Sanskrit, with an ardor that didn’t surprise those who knew his scholarly ways.
He also was a musician who played the piano daily and had taken guitar lessons. Not long before he died, he told his daughter Rebecca of Washington, that he felt rusty and was “going back to lesson one because he couldn’t quite remember where the notes were,” she said. “He loved music but more than that, he never stopped being a student.”
In a eulogy at his memorial service last month, she recalled that her father “encouraged us to do the same. He read for fun the kind of books a professor would assign for homework. He was also a teacher, a genuinely kindhearted man. He taught me to make the world a better place, no matter how small your contribution. Wherever he found himself walking, he would pick up the garbage at his feet, leaving a clear path behind.”
Mr. Crowder, a former president of the Haydn Society in Boston who spent much of his career as an engineer, died of cardiovascular disease May 31 in Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro, N.C., while attending a family reunion in the area.
He was 89 and lived in Newton.
Known as “Popi” to his family, he was “a tall, lanky man with an infectious smile and laugh, and a full head of white hair,” said his wife, Linda Rinearson. Strangers on the street would stop him to take a photograph, “thinking he was someone important or a Harvard professor,” she said.
Danuta Forbes of Arlington, whose late father, Allan Forbes Jr., was friends with Mr. Crowder for 60 years, recalled their stories of visiting Vienna, with the two men “enjoying the cafe culture and immersing themselves in intellectual and artistic pursuits.”
The friends worked together in Boston, New York, and Vienna, recording and publishing Haydn’s works as part of the Haydn Society.
Mr. Crowder “could be slightly intellectually intimidating at first,” she said. “But he was extremely warm and kind and a wonderful listener. In Tom, my father had a true kindred spirit, a man who loved discussing ideas, listening to music, and talking politics.”
After an early career in music, Mr. Crowder spent 35 years as a systems engineer and mathematician with GTE Sylvania in Needham. Then he taught at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
He also attended many meetings held by state education officials and testified at hearings about various issues. In letters to the editor of the Globe, he was a vocal opponent of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests, known as MCAS.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Crowder was the son of Thomas and Grace (Meigs) Crowder, both physicians.
His mother, an advocate for the rights and health of women and children, died when he was a toddler. He and two older sisters grew up in Winnetka, Ill.
“As a child, Tom was always making things,” his son Jonathan, who lives and works in China, said in a eulogy. “He started a neighborhood newspaper that he printed at home. Then in high school, he made stationery for a fake aeronautical engineering firm so he could ask companies for copies of their catalogues of airplane parts.”
After graduating from high school, Mr. Crowder studied English literature at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
Joining the Army Air Corps in 1943, Mr. Crowder was sent to study meteorology, electronics, and radar at the University of Minnesota, Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. At the end of World War II, he was sent to northern Germany to run the control tower of an air base.
Upon returning to the United States in 1946, he was awarded a bachelor’s degree as part of the Dartmouth class of 1945, based on courses he had taken in the military combined with his Dartmouth studies.
To follow in the footsteps of his father, mother, and grandfather, he went to Harvard Medical School, his son said, but dropped out in his first semester “after dissecting a cadaver.”
Instead, Mr. Crowder studied at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge and graduated with a master’s in music from Harvard.
Mr. Crowder was president of the Haydn Society in Boston from 1950 to 1956. From 1956 until his retirement in 1993, he worked as an engineer and teacher.
His first marriage, to Jenny (Gross) Crowder, ended in divorce.
In 1971, Mr. Crowder met Linda Rinearson, a software engineer at GTE who said she was attracted by his “wisdom, generosity, loving, and great sense of humor.” They married in 1978.
Though he embraced the life of the mind, Mr. Crowder also was an outdoorsman.
“I owe my love of the outdoors and physical activity to Popi,” his daughter Charlotte of Brooksville, Maine, said in a eulogy.
She recalled “hurtling down a slope with him on a toboggan,” and said that once while visiting New Hampshire, “my cocker spaniel was attacked by a Saint Bernard. Popi threw himself at the Saint Bernard and the two of them, locked in a bear hug, rolled down the hill in the snow. A few years later in Gloucester, reluctant swimmer though he was, Popi dove into a granite quarry pool to save the same cocker spaniel.”
In addition to his wife, Linda, his son Jonathan, and daughters Rebecca and Charlotte, Mr. Crowder leaves two other sons, Gregory of Newton and Michael Crowder Chase of Sacramento, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
“Tom showed us one plus one really does equal two, whether you are putting a man on the moon, stopping a war or baking pie, and that so often it takes time to get things right,” said his goddaughter, Suzy Restino of Victoria, British Columbia, whose father had been a Dartmouth roommate of Mr. Crowder’s. “We will always see him Tolstoy-like, deep in thought, paper in hand, the clatter of chaos all around, searching for the humor that can show anger is a lie.”