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Robert Ellsworth Ireland

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