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Leslie "Les" Gasser

December 31, 1949 ~ October 16, 2018 (age 68)

Leslie G. (Les) Gasser


On Tuesday, October 16, 2018, bon vivant and primitive animist Les Gasser passed peacefully at home surrounded by the love of his family, his neighbors whom he considered family, and his closest boyhood friends of 60 years.


Born in Morristown, NJ, on December 31, 1949, “Daddy’s little New Year’s Eve tax deduction” lived the way baby boomers of the time did: in love with hot rod cars, folk and rock music, and embracing the new generational freedoms America was discovering. As a child, Les almost burned the house down in his zeal to mix rocket fuel on the family stove with his chemistry set. The burn mark remained on the ceiling long after he’d left for college in 1968.


He received his B.A. in English Literature, Magna cum Laude, from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from the University of California, Irvine, in 1978 and 1984. Les was a talented musician who played trumpet and guitar in numerous bands over his lifetime. In addition to his academic degrees, he studied film and performance art and was fearless in his choreography of avant garde pieces. His places of academic employment included UC Irvine, The University of Southern California, The National Science Foundation, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.


Les was an avid ham radio operator, and met his XYL of 21 years, Terry von Thaden, at the University of Southern California when he charmed her with his knowledge of ballet and demonstration of a perfect plié. An impoverished graduate student at the time, Terry almost didn’t give him another date when he offered to “subsidize” her admission into the Pomona NHRA Drag Races, a faux pas he defended as demonstrating his ideal of feminism. He introduced her to single malt scotch and they spent many years travelling the world enjoying the great people, art, and vast venues the planet has to offer.


A former Boy Scout, who was honored to be inducted into the Order of the Arrow, Les was proud to have shared scouting with his son, Liam Gasser, and overjoyed when Liam achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. In later years, Les enjoyed attending Liam’s lacrosse games and marveling at his son’s hard-core lacrosse skills. Les has always admired Liam’s perseverance and knows Liam will achieve his goals in life.


Les also enjoyed cooking and presenting food art, an enthusiasm he was proud to share with his daughter, Lisette Gasser, with whom he spent many mornings carving  “banana men” and shaping elaborate pancakes. A fervent supporter of the arts, it was important to Les to purchase and frame Lise’s creations so that he could invest in her early works. Her creativity has been an inspiration to him and he knows Lise will continue to blossom into a fine young lady.


A man who lived by Emerson’s credo, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. A great person does not have to think consistently from one day to the next,” Les had various interests. A lifelong learner with a curious nature, he enjoyed the pursuit of new knowledge. Family could never bring a book into the house without him taking it over. He was as comfortable discussing Victorian poetry as he was the recent research in genomics. As an academic, Les focused on the theoretical perspectives he felt carried the most impact, and shared that pursuit as an adventure with his students and colleagues. He was proud of his students, whom he treated as intellectual equals. He also advised entrepreneurs and found excitement in shaping new ideas.


He was preceded in death by his parents, beloved stepmother, and father-in-law. He leaves behind his wife and children, brother Ray Gasser (Maria), sister Linda Gasser (Lenny Nissensen), nieces Emily Gasser Zucker and Sarah Gasser, mother-in-law Louise Thaden, other extended family, many beloved friends and colleagues, two nutty cairn terriers, as well as guitars that he worried his wife would sell for what he told her he paid for them.


Les spent many years battling cancer and insisted until the very end that in his gut, he still had more fight left. He participated in numerous clinical trials not only in hopes of a cure, but also because he was interested in the nature of cellular information communication. Though battling disease in 2017, he attended the Women’s March in Washington DC with his wife and daughter to demonstrate that we must protect our rights and those of others. To their amazement, he was strong, agile, and full of vigor on the day of the march. Even as his body failed, he remained a staunch defender of academic and human freedom. He spent his last long conversation engaged in theoretical discussion and speaking French. One of his last acts in life was to vote early in the midterm elections.


His family and friends will miss his colorful chalk targets and unwavering enthusiasm at this year’s pumpkin drop, an annual tradition held after Halloween. We hope others will adopt this tradition as well, in honor of Les’s great humor.


Donations in his memory may be made to the Children’s Tumor Foundation, dedicated to neurofibromatosis research, at


A celebration of life is planned for 10/29/18 from 5:30-8:30pm at Riggs Beer Company in Urbana, IL.  It would give him great pleasure if people would come, raise a glass in his honor, and tell a story or two. His ashes will be laid to rest in Paris, France.

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