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ACU Remembers: Dr. Mark Riggs

Dr. Mark Riggs (’75) liked to help people – students, colleagues, research scientists. “He never said ‘No,’ ” said Dr. David Hendricks (’87), professor and chair of mathematics at Abilene Christian University. “If you had a problem, he would help you.”

Riggs, the professor of mathematics and past chair, died Dec. 14, 2020, of the devastating effects of COVID-19. He was 67.

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Dr. Mark Riggs
Dr. Mark Riggs

He served 27 years on the ACU faculty, from 1980-87 and again beginning in 2003. He also began the department’s actuarial science program, and taught all three of its statistics courses.

From 1987-2003 he was director of the Department of Biostatistics at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas. For eight of those years, he was co-director of the Coordinating Center for the Central Vein Occlusion Study, funded by the National Eye Institute and National Institutes of Health. He also led his department during its research on a pediatric, nasal flu vaccine study in partnership with Johns Hopkins University.

Biostatisticians are critical but often invisible members of the medical research teams that bring projects like the COVID-19 vaccines to reality. They analyze data collected during medical research to draw conclusions or make predictions. Their collaborations allow them to become broadly knowledgeable. Similarly, actuaries use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to study future events in the world of finance. In both realms, they help others achieve a clearer understanding. That pretty much defined Riggs.

Hendricks said when Riggs began the actuarial science program he wanted to be able to help students prepare for the first two national exams in the field. “He thought it was important to know what was on the exam, so in order to do that he took them and passed, which didn’t surprise me,” Hendricks said. 

Riggs also used his statistical knowledge to support other faculty research and assisted numerous colleagues in dissertation research.

That same helpful nature made him a great teacher.

“He nurtured our students, mentored our students, and encouraged our students,” Hendricks said.

Riggs was born March 15, 1953, in Tyler, Texas, to Roy and Joyce Riggs, the first of their two sons. He graduated from Dallas Kimball High School before coming to ACU where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1975. A year later, he completed a master’s degree in statistics at Texas A&M University, where he also earned a Ph.D. in the field in 1981.

While a graduate student at Texas A&M he met Debbie Adams through the A&M Church of Christ’s Aggies for Christ student ministry. The couple married Aug. 11, 1979, and had two children. In recent years, Riggs’ favorite times were spent with his three grandchildren, kicking a soccer ball, or occasionally helping with mathematics homework.

He was active in the worship ministry at Highland Church of Christ, continuing a lifelong love of music as a vocalist and playing his viola. Consistent with Riggs’ role in academics and research, the viola often fills the supporting role in an orchestra, adding the harmonies or countermelodies that enrich the whole.

Dr. Steven Ward (’92), ACU professor of music and director of orchestra and bands, said Riggs’ love of music and love of playing his viola were treasured by fellow musicians.

“He loved playing with his faculty colleagues, community members and most especially the students, and we were all inspired by his spirit and musicianship,” Ward said. In addition to performing in recent years with the ACU Orchestra and choral groups, Riggs played during his years in Temple with the Central Texas Orchestra and Marlandwood Strings quartet, and earlier with the San Angelo Symphony.

Survivors include his wife, Debbie; a son, Will Riggs (’07) and his wife, Courtney, of Dallas; a daughter, Katie (Riggs) Maxwell and her husband, Matt (’07), of Abilene; grandchildren Minnie Riggs, Riggs Maxwell and Henry Maxwell; and a brother, Bruce Riggs (’83) of Richardson, Texas.

The family has established an endowed scholarship in Riggs’ memory to benefit students in Abilene Christian’s actuarial science program. Memorials may be made to the Mark Riggs Scholarship Fund (ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132, acu.edu/giveonline).   

An outdoor memorial service at the Beauchamp Amphitheatre on the ACU campus is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday. Face masks and physical distancing will be required.

 
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