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ACU Remembers: Dr. Mark Riggs

By on December 16, 2020 in ACU Remembers with 3 Comments

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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  1. Avatar Steve Smith says:

    I first met Mark as a fellow orchestra member while at ACU in the early ’70s. We again crossed paths in College Station in 1977 where he was a student at TAMU and I had come to practice law. During our time here, we both met our future wives (Debbie and Becky). Mark sang in a chorus I directed, and he and Debbie asked that group to provide the music for their wedding. Our close relationship continued through the years, and they were extremely supportive of me during the time of Becky’s cancer and her ultimate passing in 2005. Since that time, Mark and Debbie have been my gracious hosts during my thrice-annual visits to Abilene for ACU Board of Trustees meetings from 2001-2017, and on visits thereafter. We have always considered Mark and Debbie to be some of our dearest friends. Mark was an exceptional husband, father and grandfather, and an outstanding teacher who had a great heart for his students. I am a much better person for having known him, and will greatly miss him until God calls me home.

  2. Avatar Floyd & Kay Meredith says:

    We are praying for this special family in the loss of this wonderful husband father and grandfather and brother-God bless all of these with your love and care and peace and mercy and grace.

  3. Avatar Reg Cox says:

    Mark was a lifelong friend. Our fathers were best friends growing up in Oak Cliff (S/W Dallas) in the 30’s-40’s. Our parents remained close and I saw and talked to him often over the years. Both our moms died this past July. Mark was steady, positive and a gentle communicator. His broad smile was ever present and he was the kind of person who didn’t need the accompaniment of loud or brash to make a contribution or support something of value. He will be sorely missed and I join the ACU community in morning this Jesus loving friend.

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