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Tarr remembered as generous, amicable

Terence Tarr retired from DU in 1991. Photo: File

Terence Tarr was generous to his friends and displayed his gourmet cooking skills at dinner parties he co-hosted. He loved the opera, enjoyed gardening, rooted avidly for the Denver Broncos and helped breed five generations of Norwegian elk hounds.

While certainly no penny pincher, Tarr was nonetheless rather frugal when it came to himself. And that’s understandable, since Tarr — a former DU history professor who died on Dec. 10 in Santa Fe, N.M., at the age of 76 — was born in 1935. He was a child of the Depression and grew up on a dairy farm in Everson, Wash. — a dot on the map in the northwestern portion of the state, less than 10 miles from the Canadian border.

Tarr’s thrifty ways held sway right up until his death from a recurrence of lung cancer, 12 years after he underwent surgery for the disease. When Michael Pulman, another former DU history professor and Tarr’s partner since 1972, called the hospital to check on Tarr, a nurse told Pulman, “He’s just had a CAT scan, but he didn’t want to do it.”

“And I said, ‘Why not?’”

“And she said, ‘Well, he didn’t want to have to pay for it.’”

“And I said, ‘Well, just remind him he’s not going to have to pay for it. He’s covered by insurance.’”

At DU, Tarr taught the history of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. He received his bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in 1957 and then went to the University of Florida for his master’s degree (1958) and his PhD (1960). After two years as an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, Tarr began a 28-year teaching career at DU in 1963.

When he decided to take early retirement in 1991, Tarr received a letter from Roscoe Hill, former dean of DU’s Divisions of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Hill gently voiced his displeasure about Tarr’s departure.

“I wish to repeat that I have very mixed feelings about this proposed early retirement: while I am wholly committed to helping you achieve what you wish, I will miss you here at the University,” Hill wrote. “It seems that we have worked together forever on various Phi Beta Kappa activities, and I have oftentimes gratefully relied on your wise counsel in that and other arenas. This place will not be the same without you.”

Tarr and Pulman built a house at 2620 S. Fillmore St. in 1972–73 and lived there until they moved to Santa Fe in 1991. They entertained at the residence, which Pulman says came to be “regarded as the history department’s party house.” The home had a large dining room that seated 14. Dinner parties were frequent, Pulman says, and Tarr always did the cooking.

“Terry was never happier than when he had fed a lot of people and he could retire to the kitchen and just putter around in his kitchen,” says Cathy Gronquist, a Santa Fe resident who received her BA and MBA from DU in the late 1970s and along with her husband, Guy, was very close to Tarr. They remained so, visiting back and forth, during the 30 years she and Guy lived in London.

“He wasn’t a big crowd person, but yet he loved to feed people,” she says.

Mary Kime, who taught at DU’s Lamont School of Music from 1969–90 and lives in Santa Fe, says she got to know Tarr well during their involvement in a now-defunct DU program that operated under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“I don’t know that he ever got terribly indignant,” Kime says. “I think he had a broad perspective about people and giving people (their) just due and recognition. He was a tolerant kind of guy. It was very much a pleasure to be around him. Thoughtful and kind. I never heard him make a mean comment about somebody. He was very forgiving of people’s idiosyncrasies.”

Pulman says, “I think anybody will tell you that he was one of the most lovable people that they’ve ever known. The very idea of confrontation was anathema to him. He bent over backwards to see the best in people, and that made him many, many friends.”

One of those friends was Tom Lohman, who in an e-mail to Pulman after Tarr’s death described himself as an “unfocused youth” seeking “some purpose” when he encountered Tarr at DU in the mid-1980s. Lohman wrote of Tarr, “I remember him as a man blessed with intelligence, enthusiasm and wit. He was one of the finest and kindest men I met in my life.”

Tarr and Pulman made annual visits to hear the Santa Fe Opera, which influenced their decision to retire there. At DU, Tarr had the opportunity to take any course as a student, and he earned a master’s degree in library science in 1967. Tarr put the degree to use in Santa Fe, where he became the first librarian and archivist of the local botanical garden.

In Santa Fe, Tarr and Pulman became reunited with the Gronquists. Guy Gronquist took a course from Tarr while studying for his master’s degree under Pulman. When Guy went to England to do research for that degree, Cathy spent Sundays with Tarr in his basement, where they watched the Broncos while refurbishing antique dressers that had been in Guy’s family for several generations.

“Because he was a farm boy, Terry could do anything,” Cathy Gronquist says. “He could put up preserves. He could cook a meal for 20. He could refinish furniture. When you live on a farm, I think you’re used to doing anything.”

That resolve became an asset for Tarr after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999. He had surgery to remove two-thirds of his left lung but didn’t require radiation or chemotherapy. And then he plowed onward.

“He had a very optimistic nature,” Cathy Gronquist says. “He was very determined that he was going to live life and not let anything stop him. And I think that stood him in good stead. He was made of very strong stuff. And I think that comes back to the kind of roots that he had.”

A celebration of Tarr’s life will be held on June 2 in Santa Fe. RSVP by May 1 by calling 505-986-0764 or emailing

Donations in his memory may be made to the Raymond Calhoun and Michael Pulman Scholarship in History at DU, Office of Gift Processing, Dept. 585, Denver, CO 80291.

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