COURTESY OF VISHAKA MUHUNTHAN
Balasingam Muhunthan, WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering chair and professor, passed away at the age of 59 on June 17.
Muhunthan was born and raised in Sri Lanka, said Vishaka Muhunthan, Balasingam’s oldest daughter. He received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Peradeniya before moving to the U.S. and completing his master’s degree and doctoral studies at Purdue University.
Muhunthan went to Pullman in 1991, interviewing for an assistant professor position in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He fell in love with the city and never left, Vishaka said.
Muhunthan told his wife Pullman looked just like Sri Lanka. He immediately fell in love with the city and how kind the people were, she said.
“My dad had the hallmark of a great teacher,” She said at his memorial, “… he could take the most complicated topic and explain it in such a simple and intuitive manner, mixing in jokes and personal references along the way.”
Muhunthan never gave up on his students. He would spend extra time explaining a problem in several different ways and helped to find scholarships when necessary. Vishaka said her dad believed in the power of education.
“He’s the best teacher we know, and we hear that from a lot of his students,” Vishaka said. “He very genuinely wants to see people succeed and will do whatever it takes… to make sure they have what they need.”
Outside of academia, Muhunthan valued taking time to enjoy life, finding interest in sports, politics, news, traveling and reading, Vishaka said.
Munhunthan’s younger daughter Priyanka said her dad had unlimited patience, infectious energy and a kind heart.
“My dad was the best,” Priyanka said at her father’s memorial. “I know that almost every kid must think that about their dad, but it’s true.”
Vishaka said her dad lived to make his family happy, whether driving through the backroads of Moscow in search of the best sledding hills or taking them to Safeway to pick out movies for the weekend.
“My dad had a zest for life that is rare,” Priyanka said. “You could see it in the way he approached every day. He truly enjoyed working hard, doing the right thing, helping others and taking care of his family.”
Muhunthan’s family created the B. Muhunthan Memorial Scholarship to help students continue to grow and succeed, carrying on his legacy and love for learning at WSU, Vishaka said. Donations to the fund can be made here.
“My dad built the most beautiful life for my mother, sister and me,” Vishaka said. “While we are absolutely devastated that we do not get to enjoy more of it with him, I think we can draw incredible strength from knowing how fully he lived every single day of his life.”