We are sad to report that long-time supporter and alumnus Raymond Wilson ’43 passed away at the age of 98 on August 2, 2020.
“Ray Wilson was a great supporter of our department and he will always be remembered for his unwavering support of undergraduate research and bringing top scholars to our department,” said Professor Richard Kaner, whose research the Wilsons have supported for several years.
Chemistry grabbed hold of Raymond A. Wilson as a teenager, and never let go. Born in Boyle Heights and raised in Inglewood, Wilson recalled having a “bent for the sciences,” and in high school he took all the science courses that were offered. He enrolled at UCLA in 1939 and never wavered from his decision to major in chemistry. He graduated in 1943.
In his first two years as a Bruin, Wilson was a member of the UCLA Rally Committee. He helped organize the massive card tricks at football games and decorate the goal posts in blue and gold. When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, many such extracurricular activities were curtailed. Around that time, Wilson began working in the Chemistry Department to help pay for his tuition and his small rented room near campus.
Although he graduated over seventy years ago, he has enduring memories of several UCLA chemistry professors who profoundly affected his life. Among them were Professors Charles D. Coryell and James D. McCullough, who team-taught an introductory chemistry course. “The two of them really convinced me I was in the right place, that chemistry was the right subject for me,” Wilson said. And there was Prof. James B. Ramsey, who taught physical chemistry. “He was very demanding and gave us pop quizzes once or twice a week,” Wilson recalled. “You always did your homework in that class–or else.”
Wilson graded papers for pioneering organic chemist Saul Winstein, and worked as an assistant to Professor William R. Crowell, a professor of quantitative analysis. Wilson has shared that a particular event stood out in his memory. One evening during a rare war-related blackout, a light bulb that maintained a constant-temperature bath for experiments kept flashing on and off. Thinking it might be a code transmission of some sort; the authorities swiftly arrived and unplugged the bulb–causing all of the experiments to fail. To prevent a repeat of this mishap, Wilson was immediately assigned to find an alternative heat source for the constant-temperature bath.
Wilson credited his UCLA education for giving him an excellent start to an immensely satisfying 40-year career with Shell Oil Company. “Looking back,” he noted, “I’m tickled pink that I got such a great education, which helped me get a good job straight out of college.”
After he retired, Wilson decided to start giving back to UCLA. In the 1990s, Wilson and his wife, Dorothy (“Dot”) (pictured above), donated a piece of real estate to the Chemistry Department, to help fund the new Chemistry building. During a visit to see the nearly completed building, they were so impressed by Professor Richard Kaner (their tour guide) that they decided to donate funds to support his research–and have done so ever since.
Wilson’s next major gift came in 2001, when he named UCLA as the beneficiary of a large IRA and established the Ray & Dorothy Wilson Endowment in Chemistry, which supports visiting professors and student fellowships in the Department. Over the years, the Shell Oil matching gift program has added generously to the endowment. The Raymond & Dorothy Wilson Inorganic Lecture was initiated in 2019 thanks to an endowment established by the Wilsons. In addition to funding the Raymond & Dorothy Wilson Inorganic Lecture and the Hawthorne Lectures (established in 2004), several undergraduates are able to conduct summer research in our research labs each year thanks to the Raymond & Dorothy Wilson Research Fellowships.
Through their generosity, Dot and Ray Wilson built a solid legacy in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry that is also a lasting tribute to the chemistry professors who, over seventy years ago, had such a profound impact on a bright young chemistry student.
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, firstname.lastname@example.org.