Robert Ellsworth Ireland

Robert Ellsworth Ireland (Bob) passed away on Saturday, February fourth at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota Florida. He is survived by his wife Margaret, brother Andrew, and children Mark and Richard. Bob, a world-renowned chemistry professor resided in Sarasota these past seventeen years after retiring from the University of Virginia in 1995.

Bob received an A.B. degree from Amherst College in 1951, followed by a Ph.D. degree under the direction of William S. Johnson from the University of Wisconsin in 1954. He then studied as a NSF postdoctoral fellow in the group of William G. Young at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1954-56.  He joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1956 and, subsequently moved to the California Institute of Technology in 1965 as Professor of Organic Chemistry.  In 1985, he left Cal Tech to become Director of the Merrell-Dow Research Institute in Strasbourg, France.  After a year in that position he came to the University of Virginia as Chairman of the Chemistry department and was selected as the inaugural Thomas Jefferson Chair Professor of Chemistry.  He assumed emeritus status in 1995. Among his noteworthy achievements as Chair of the Department was a substantial new addition to the Chemistry Building, completed in 1995.

Bob Ireland received numerous awards in recognition of his contributions to organic synthesis. These include a Sloan Fellowship, the Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Essential Oils, and the ACS Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry. He was the first to demonstrate the awesome synthetic potential of the enolate Claisen rearrangement, a reaction that now bears his name. His significant impact on synthetic organic chemistry reflected not only his scientific achievements, but also his style of presentation both in seminars and the scientific literature.  His publications are a model of clarity and thoroughness. Early in his career he wrote Organic Synthesis (Prentice Hall, 1969), the first-ever textbook on synthetic strategy. In it one finds the oft quoted passage “Stereochemistry Raises its Ugly Head” as the title of Chapter 5.  The final chapter, “Multistage Synthesis: Logistics and Stereochemistry Combine to Produce Nightmares,” presages the present era of complex molecule construction.  Though nearly 40 years old, the book can still serve as a text for a modern mid-level course in synthetic organic chemistry.

Bob’s lucid and often entertaining lectures in the classroom and at industrial organizations graphically illustrated the power and beauty of multistage organic synthesis and inspired generations of chemists, both young and old. It is worth noting that many of his former students and postdoctoral associates have become successful chemists themselves and now hold leadership positions in industry, government, and universities, both in the U.S. and abroad. His many contributions to education and science will be long remembered.

James A. Marshall, Charlottesville Virginia

William H. Myers

Bill Myers was a strict teacher teaching a tough subject — chemistry. He expected discipline. However, he would do everything to help his students succeed. He offered review and practice sessions for his exams. He posted every test he ever administered online so students could practice on old tests right before upcoming tests. He recorded his lectures and told stories in class – often funny ones — to help students relate to and understand his subject matter. In a University of Richmond post, Bruce Matthews, assistant athletic director for academics, noted, “He wasn’t going to let you go until you had it. … He just cared.”

Dr. Myers, who retired last May as professor of chemistry at UR after teaching and researching for 43 years, died Sept. 14 at home in Richmond at age 70. Doctors diagnosed an aggressive brain tumor in August. Family members say that chemistry was in his blood from the beginning. William Howard Myers was born Jan. 26, 1946, in a hospital in the shadow of nuclear reactors at Oak Ridge, Tenn., the secret “Fenced City” that housed the Manhattan Project, which the previous year had produced the atomic bomb that won World War II for the Allies.

His chemist father, Albert Myers, who had overseen the chemical aspects of the site’s uranium enrichment program, left to teach at various universities, including Carson-Newman in Jefferson County, Tenn., where Dr. Myers grew up and graduated with honors from high school in 1963. That summer, his father moved the family to Houston, where he helped establish a new Houston Baptist University. Dr. Myers lived at home and attended HBU, majoring in chemistry, physics and math and taking every science course the school offered. After running out of classes to take, he spent his final semester as an intern at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, where he decided he never wanted to live again in a cold city.

In Texas, he met Barbara Sue McElvany, whom he married after graduation from HBU in 1967. They moved to the University of Florida at Gainesville, where she finished earning a sociology degree and he began work on his doctorate in inorganic chemistry. When he drew a low draft number during the Vietnam War, Florida put him on staff to teach freshman chemistry, which deferred him long enough to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps and transition into the officers’ Chemical Corps. In 1972, when he earned his doctorate, he was an Army captain. He served in the Army Reserve until 1981.

In fall 1973, he came to the University of Richmond as an associate professor of chemistry, becoming one of five members of his family to teach college chemistry. Dr. Myers chose teaching over research because he loved people and relished encouraging them to reach their potential, according to family. He had a special spot in his heart for student-athletes in his class.

Leland Melvin, a UR football standout who became a NASA astronaut, noted that, “The whole time I was in space, I reflected on people who had not given up on me. … And he was one of them. Dr. Myers was that person who molded me and guided me and helped me understand what chemistry was all about and brought it to life. “All those traits you want your kids to have, he tried to instill them in us: having good character, being a strong person, believing in yourself. It wasn’t just chemistry but in life.”

When former UR offensive lineman Chris Kondorossy became anxious about passing his dental school entrance exam, Dr. Myers invited him to his home, according to the UR post. “I went out there every Saturday for a whole summer at 7 a.m.,” he said. “He privately tutored me for two or three hours. His wife would make us coffee, and we’d sit at the dining room table. “He would go through the textbook front to back. I’d take practice exams with him. I’d get stuck, and he’d tell me why. That’s probably the only reason I was able to get into VCU [Dental School]. … I’ll never forget that. He was looking out for me. That’s who he was.”

Growing up in a family that loved everything from hymns to symphonic music, Dr. Myers developed a love of music and the arts. Playing the lead in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” as a child in Tennessee started him on his way. In Richmond, he sang in the Richmond Symphony Chorus under James Erb and also had lent his voice to the bass sections of church choirs.

In a letter to Dr. Myers on Sept. 6, Jim Hall, a former UR colleague of Dr. Myers, wrote, “I am so glad that you and Barbara took the time this summer to see your families. There’s nothing more important than family this side of Jordan.”

The family archivist, Dr. Myers converted his grandfather’s weekly family newsletters to print and digital formats, preserving more than 25 years of family history. He also collected, organized and preserved family photos and slides.

With Southern Baptist roots running deep on both sides of his family, “he loved his church,” wrote his brother, James “Jim” Myers of Knoxville, Tennessee. “Bill’s life was spent in service to people.”

A self-taught Bible scholar, Dr. Myers found great joy in leading others to more deeply experience God’s word, family members wrote. He taught everywhere he could – at churches, in Kenya, as well as at seminars and conferences. One Thursday per month since 2012, he had led a Bible study group at Deep Meadow Correctional Center. “He was a remarkable teacher of the Bible, of patience, of compassion, of inclusiveness, of love for all people, of ethical/forthright behavior, of clear thinking, of the importance of organization and scholarship, and of unbridled love for God and his family,” another brother, John Myers of Durham, North Carolina, wrote. “His main concern was about each person’s faith in God and their journey with Christ. His gift to each of them was helping them on that journey.”

Please click here to read more on Bill’s life and legacy.

In addition to his brothers, survivors include his wife of 49 years, Barbara Sue McElvany Myers; a daughter, Kathy Burnette; and a son, Bryan Myers, both of Midlothian; and one grandson.

September 20, 2016, Ellen Robertson, Richmond Times Dispatch

John T. Yates, Jr.

In Memorium

John Thomas Yates, Jr.

August 3, 1935 – September 26, 2015

John T. Yates, Jr., Professor of Chemistry at the University of Virginia, member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a pioneer of modern surface science, passed away at his home on Saturday morning September 26, 2015, from a recurring glioblastoma.  John was both courageous, pragmatic and forthright about his diagnosis right to the end.  His wife, Kerin, related that John, upon learning of his diagnosis, said that he had had a great life and was not going to ‘let the last 1.25%’ define him.   It did not.  He had a wonderful family and a stellar career.

Born in Winchester, Virginia on August 3, 1935, he received his B.S. degree in chemistry from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in 1956, and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960 — working with Professor Carl W. Garland.  Following three years as an Assistant Professor at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, he joined the National Bureau of Standards, Gaithersburg, Maryland (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), first as an NRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow and then, from 1965 until 1982, as a member of its scientific staff.  He was a Senior Visiting Scholar at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK in 1970-71, and the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology in 1977-78.  He joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 as the first R.K. Mellon Professor of Chemistry, and as the Founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh Surface Science Center.  In 1994 he received a joint appointment in the Department of Physics.  In 2006, he retired from the University of Pittsburgh and moved to the University of Virginia as Professor and Shannon Research Fellow.

Throughout his career, his research was in the fields of surface chemistry and physics, including interests in the structure and spectroscopy of surface species, the dynamics of surface processes, and the development of new methods for research in surface chemistry.  When he moved to the University of Virginia, he also became professionally active in the field of astrochemistry.  He was an accomplished amateur astronomer and woodworker.  He had a passionate lifelong interest in clocks, accuracy in timekeeping, and precision instrumentation, both antique and modern.  To his core, he was “a measurer” with accuracy and precision.  His colleagues and competitors alike knew that they could always trust, without question, the measured quantities in his published works.

John Yates was an exceptional scientist and gifted communicator.  He had a knack for making complex problems seem simple after he studied them in depth and communicated his results so beautifully, typically with his own meticulously hand-drawn diagrams.  He published more than 750 scientific papers on surface chemistry and physics, and is among the 100 most-cited chemists in the world.  His professional accomplishments have been recognized by many prestigious awards and honors, including: Silver Medal – U.S. Department of Commerce (1973); Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar – Caltech (1977-78); Stratton Award for Distinguished Research – NBS (1978); Gold Medal, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Highest Award (1981); Kendall Award for Colloid or Surface Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (1987); Inaugural President’s Distinguished Research Award – University of Pittsburgh (1989); E.W. Morley Medal of the Cleveland ACS (1990); Fellow of the American Physical Society (1992); Medard Welch Award –American Vacuum Society’s highest technical award (1994); Fellow of the American Vacuum Society (1994); Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award (1994); Member of the National Academy of Sciences (1996); Pittsburgh-Cleveland Catalysis Society Award (1998); Pittsburgh Award of the Pittsburgh ACS (1998); Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry of the ACS (1999); J.W. Linnett Visiting Professorship – Cambridge University (2000); Outstanding Alumnus of Juniata College (2000); G.N. Lewis Lecturer, University of California-Berkeley (2002); Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship (2002); Gwathmey Visiting Professor, University of Virginia (2002-03); Fellow of The Institute of Physics (2004); and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry of the ACS (2007); Theodore Madey Award of the AVS (2011); Gerhard Ertl Lecturer Award for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis (2013).

Professor Yates was a kind, patient, trusted and generous mentor and advisor to the more than 1000 students, postdocs and collaborators with whom he interacted. He was an inspirational undergraduate and graduate teacher and mentor.  He demonstrated and conveyed an excitement about science, the wonders of scientific discovery, and a love of learning that encouraged and helped many to pursue scientific careers.  In addition, he developed strong professional relationships with a number of surface science research programs in academic, government, and industrial research laboratories throughout the world. He served on the editorial boards of six scientific journals and two book series in surface science and catalysis. He was Associate Editor of the ACS journal, Langmuir.  He also served on the Advisory Board of Chemical & Engineering News and on the International Advisory Board of Chemistry World.

Yates was generous in his service of scientific societies such as the American Vacuum Society, the American Physical Society, and the American Chemical Society, including past service as a member of the AVS Board of Directors, AVS Trustee Chair, and twice as the AVS Surface Science Division Chair.  He was the past chairman of the APS Division of Chemical Physics, and the ACS Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry. He organized many symposia for ACS and APS national meetings, and was Chairman of three Gordon Research Conferences. He co-edited two books, Vibrational Spectroscopy of Molecules on Surfaces, Plenum, 1987 and Chemical Perspectives of Microelectronic Materials, Materials Research Society, 1989. He co-authored a book entitled, The Surface Scientists Guide to Organometallic Chemistry, ACS, 1987.  He also co-authored a textbook, Molecular Physical Chemistry for Engineers, University Science Books, published in 2007.  His book, Experimental Innovations in Surface Science, was originally published by Springer-Verlag and The American Institute of Physics in 1998; a second edition, his last major project, was published in 2015.

John is survived by Kerin – his wife of 57 years, his sons Geoffrey (Michelle), and Nathan (Jan), and six grandchildren, Andrew, Steven, Caitlin, Lauren, Hannah and Sara. His passing is a loss for his family and for science, but he has left a lasting legacy in his published work, and in the generations of scientists he mentored.

John N. Russell, Jr., Ph.D.
Head, Surface Chemistry Branch, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC

Thomas P. Beebe, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry, University of Delaware, Newark DE

(former graduate students)