Alumni Review

In Memory: Col. Richard B. Minnix

Minnix headshot

Col. Richard B. Minnix, longtime and beloved physics professor, died Nov. 28, 2018. He was 85.

Minnix grew up in Salem, Virginia, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Roanoke College in 1954. He earned a Master of Science degree in physics and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in experimental physics from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina, respectively.

Col. Richard B. Minnix

In summer 1956, Minnix joined VMI’s department of physics as an instructor. This began his 40 consecutive years of teaching at the Institute, broken only by postgraduate studies at the University of North Carolina.

Over the next four decades, Minnix would rise to be full professor and lead the department of physics and astronomy twice, as well as serve as the Institute’s first director of science. Throughout his time in the department, he was deeply engaged in its constant efforts to improve the curriculum, expand its course offerings and engage cadets and the wider community. The Institute presented him with its Distinguished Teaching Award in 1983, citing his skills as a teacher and his willingness to be accessible to his students.

Alumni probably also remember him for the popular physics demonstrations that he conducted with his longtime colleague, close friend and fellow Roanoke College alumnus, D. Rae Carpenter. They went on to make the demonstrations available to schools and teachers mainly through the Dick and Rae Physics Demo Notebook, which contains 650 physics demonstrations and remains in print. Minnix and Carpenter were proud of the fact that the book has been purchased on every continent except Antarctica.

Minnix was an enthusiastic promoter of life-long science education, believing that science and mathematics should be more widely understood and appreciated. He and Carpenter conducted summer courses at VMI for high school physics teachers for more than 25 years that were sponsored by the National Science Foundation and traveled to secondary schools around the Southeast presenting a program they called “Phun with Physics.” In 1993, he developed and taught a course for Native American science teachers that was sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also presented demonstration courses in Canada and served as a guest lecturer at the Virginia Governor’s School for 17 years. He also participated in the XXIV International Physics Olympiad for high school students in 1993.

A member of many professional organizations, Minnix served as the treasurer of the Virginia Academy of Science, as well as the chairman and secretary of the organization’s astronomy, mathematics and physics section. He also was involved with the Virginia Junior Academy of Science.

It should be no surprise that his successful academic career and high level of professional citizenship were widely recognized. For example, Minnix and Carpenter jointly received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1988 and the George B. Pegram Award of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society for Outstanding Teaching in 1987.

Somehow, Minnix also found the time to serve the Lexington community. As a member of Lexington Presbyterian Church since his arrival in Lexington, he served as an elder and the clerk of the session, as well as a member of several boards and committees. He also was the leader of Cub Scout Pack 29, was involved for 25 years with the Rockbridge County Christmas Basket Program and was a member of the Lexington Rotary Club for 46 years.

Minnix was predeceased by his wife, Marian Montague Chapman Minnix, to whom he was married for 61 years. He is survived by his two sons, Jeffrey B. Minnix ’79 and Wesley T. Minnix ’82; daughter, Leslie Montague Minnix-Wolfe; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Those members of the VMI family who wish to honor Minnix’s legacy at the Institute are asked to donate in his memory to the VMI Foundation. Checks should be mailed to c/o VMI Foundation; P.O. Box 932; Lexington, Virginia, 24450. Credit card gifts can be made at

  • Scott Belliveau

    Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects

    The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.