In memoriam: Dr. Ena Gross

By Dr. Leila Christenbury, retired commonwealth professor of English education

Ena Gross, Ph.D.

Dr. Ena Gross

After a short illness, VCU School of Education Professor Emerita Dr. Ena Gross died April 26, 2018, one day before her 70th birthday. Dr. Gross taught mathematics education in the School of Education from 1979 to 2013, and she left a strong legacy of influence upon her students and her colleagues.

Dr. Gross received her doctorate from Georgia State University, and in her subsequent career at VCU, she became the local and regional expert for K-12 mathematics education, collaborating with both Dr. John van deWalle, a fellow professor in the School of Education, and with numerous colleagues in the VCU Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. The recipient of over $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation and the State Council of Higher Education, Dr. Gross advocated strongly for better mathematics instruction in the classroom and for the fostering of mathematics specialists in the schools.

At one point in her career, Dr. Gross’ students were mathematics teachers or subject area administrators in over two dozen Virginia localities and also included a recent Virginia superintendent of public instruction.

Known as a challenging instructor with high standards, Dr. Gross was nevertheless revered by her students, and in her last year as a professor, anonymous student course evaluations lauded her as having a wealth of knowledge, being “amazing,” “fabulous,” and promoting critical thinking.

Dr. Phil Olds and Dr. Ena Gross

Dr. Gross and her husband, Dr. Phil Olds.

Dr. Gross was the recipient of numerous School of Education awards for her work (two awards for teaching and one for service), and she also received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, becoming one of a handful of School of Education faculty so honored with university recognition. At the School and University level, she served with distinction, and she served as assistant chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning for over ten years. She was active with her professional organizations, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics as well as the Greater Richmond Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Dr. Gross believed that understanding mathematics led to understanding the world. She used questioning and writing to help her students learn to teach mathematics effectively, and her belief in the power of good teaching was unflagging.

Ena Gross was the middle sister of triplets, and she was born and raised in New Jersey. When she moved to Richmond and began teaching at VCU, she met Dr. Phil Olds of the VCU School of Business, and they later married. With Phil, Ena was an accomplished baker, gourmet cook and wine connoisseur, and collected Native American pottery and weavings as well as rare paperweights. The two loved nature and the outdoor life, and before she was confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, Ena and Phil hiked and camped at almost every national park in the United States. Kayaking in Alaska and seeing the penguins in Antarctica were highlights of their many trips. They were married over 30 years.

At a recent gathering celebrating Dr. Gross, it was remarked that she was much more than the wheelchair that kept her confined for the last 15 years of her life. Her sense of humor, her curiosity about the world, her generosity, and her joy in the life she had were all hallmarks.

She will be missed.

Wordle based on student evaluations.

A Wordle based on Dr. Gross' student course evaluations from her last year of teaching.