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University of Kentucky Professor Emeritus Robert Guthrie, former Cram postdoc and UCLA chemistry lecturer, died on February 13, 2018 at the age of 81.

After graduating from high school, Guthrie went to Oberlin College where he began his serious study of chemistry under the tutelage of famed chemical educator Professor J. Arthur Campbell.  After receiving his bachelors in science degree in 1958, Guthrie went on to the University of Rochester where he was a graduate student with Professor Marshall Gates, renowned for the first synthesis of morphine. He received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1962.

In 1963 he joined the group of UCLA chemistry professor Nobel Laureate Donald J. Cram. His collaboration with Cram resulted in a number of papers in prestigious journals, which cemented his position as a strong candidate for an academic post. Following completion of his postdoc, Guthrie was a lecturer at UCLA during 1964-65. The University of Kentucky (UK) Department of Chemistry hired Guthrie in 1965 where he remained until his retirement in 2003.

From the University of Kentucky, Department of Chemistry, memorial website:

The Life of Robert Daulton Guthrie, UK Chemistry Professor, 1936-2018    

By Dr. James Holler

Recently, the UK Chemistry community was saddened to learn of the death of Bob Guthrie, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Department of Chemistry. Bob was born on June 27, 1936 in Bronxville, New York, and after his family relocated, he grew up and received his early education in New Orleans. He knew from a very early age that he wanted to achieve significant goals in his life.

Following graduation from high school, Bob matriculated at Oberlin College and was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in 1958. While at Oberlin, he began serious study of chemistry under the tutelage of famed chemical educator J. Arthur Campbell. Bob’s next stop on the road to success was the University of Rochester, where he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1962 with Marshall Gates, renowned for the first synthesis of morphine.

The last step in Bob’s formal chemical education was a post-doctoral fellowship under the direction of Donald J. Cram at UCLA in 1963-64. Cram, a Nobel laureate in 1987, was one of the leading lights of physical organic chemistry in that era. His collaboration with Cram resulted in a number of papers in prestigious journals, which cemented his position as a strong candidate for an academic post. Following completion of his postdoc, Bob was a lecturer at UCLA during 1964-65. The UK Department of Chemistry hired Bob in 1965 where he remained until his retirement in 2003.

During his time at UCLA, Bob met and married his life-partner, Roberta. Over the next several years, Roberta and Bob had three children: Jim, Stephen, and Katie. Roberta is a fine cellist, a former member of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, a music teacher, and a performer in many small ensembles. Bob and Roberta’s mutual love of music was a strong unifying force in their life together.

On the occasion of Bob’s retirement, many of his former graduate students wrote of his influence on their lives. They described him as a great teacher, researcher, and mentor. In addition, he was characterized as a “caring master” of the highest moral character and incomparable knowledge who supported his students with encouragement, honesty, and fairness. He was a role model as he served among “the hardest working of the faculty”, imbuing his students with the “excitement that comes from scientific discovery”, and ultimately, inspiring some of them to follow in his professorial footsteps.

Bob’s involvement with his students extended to their social and private lives as well. He and Roberta often hosted his students at social gatherings including Thanksgiving. Bob is remembered as an excellent cook who often served a favorite, Oysters Bienville, on a unique dining table made from the hatch of a ship. His students have vivid recollections of many exciting canoe and hiking outings. There appears to have been little that Bob wouldn’t do for his students, including co-signing loans for them. It was not uncommon for them to seek his advice many years after they had left UK, which is testimony to their trust in his wisdom and judgment. Bob also endeared himself to younger faculty members who benefited from Bob’s excellent advice on many occasions. His communication skills, willingness to share useful insights, and empathy for the milieu of junior faculty resulted in his being named Honorary Assistant Professor by junior colleagues.

As Bob worked his way through the ranks at UK, achieving tenure and promotion to Associate Professor of Chemistry in 1970 and promotion to Professor in 1977, he developed a reputation as a valued colleague both within The Department and throughout The University of Kentucky. Among his many positive attributes were forthrightness, honesty, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm, and his unassuming nature. To his colleagues, Bob was considered a “model of academic excellence”. His encyclopedic knowledge of organic reaction mechanisms permitted him to formulate, in collaboration with the late William P. Jencks, a system for the symbolic representation of reaction mechanisms. The system was accepted by the IUPAC, and Bob considered the system a signature achievement.

By the early 1980s, Bob had become quite familiar with the intricacies of administration, he was even tempered, and perhaps most important, he played his cards close to the vest. These characteristics made him a perfect candidate to become Chairman of the Department of Chemistry. An unwritten rule of academic life is that faculty should never elect a chairman who actually seeks and desires the job. Bob fit the mold perfectly; he didn’t want the job. As with every “dirty job” that he was assigned during his academic life, Bob performed magnificently during his term of 1983-87, so much so that he served as chairman on three separate occasions.  Bob was a member of dozens of departmental, college, and university committees over the years, but his favorite and most rewarding service was as faculty representative on the Presidential Search Committee of 1986, which selected David Roselle as President of The University of Kentucky.

Bob’s indomitable spirit was never more prominent than when he took to the field, the court, or the mat to engage in sports. Bob wasn’t much of a basketball player, but what he lacked in skill, he made up with immense enthusiasm and reckless abandon. He acquitted himself fairly well in touch football and volleyball, and some thought that his best sport was tennis. But, what few of his colleagues knew was that his best sport was wrestling and that he had been a collegiate wrestler at Oberlin College. Bob’s grappling skill came as quite a shock to an unsuspecting junior faculty member who fell victim to his quickness and guile in a friendly impromptu wrestling match at a departmental picnic. The vanquished colleague learned never to underestimate Bob in any way.

Over the past two decades, Bob’s spirit was challenged several times by health issues including brain tumors that were treated with surgery and radiation. The treatments left Bob with diminished ability to walk, and ultimately, he developed dysphagia, which rapidly reduced his quality of life. Throughout this time, Bob continued to write, completing three novels; perform library research, a bibliography of the history of organic chemistry; play online chess daily; lunch with colleagues; and exercise his wicked sense of humor. Inevitably, the cumulative effects of his illnesses led to his peaceful demise on February 13, 2018. Wonderful colleague, innovative and respected teacher, fine administrator, valued citizen, and most excellent friend, we will miss you terribly.