William H. MyersB.A., Houston Baptist University
Ph.D., University of Florida
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