Wednesday, March 23, 2011
March 20, 2011
January 26th was always a great day because two of my favorite people in the world both had birthdays on that day. A coincidence. One of them was born in 1972 (Hi, Ferry!), and the other was born in 1926. Robert E. Lyle, Jr (1926-2011) is no one whom any of you knew, but he sure as hell gets his memorial due, here, today. Bob was my organic chemistry professor during 1975-76 at the University of New Hampshire. I was Bob's last undergraduate research student at UNH before he left for a position in Texas, and he was a dear friend and generous mentor.
Bob moved to the University of New Hampshire in 1957, the year I was born. Another coincidence. I often joked that he moved to UNH in order to wait for me to get there, for which anyone would need a world of patience.
I recall Bob's organic chemistry class for three episodes.
First of these was the first quiz we took on the first week of class. There was a question about a "CH3" unit in some molecule. The answer to the question was to make reference to "the methyl group" and I wrote "the methyl molecule" as my answer, for which I lost a point and got a 9/10 on the quiz. I was pissed and pleaded my case (of course I had no case). Bob thought this entire complaint was pretty funny, and let me know in a kind, gentle, but adamant way "but the point is, that it is wrong to call it a methyl molecule instead of a methyl group, so know you've learned that." It seems he got my attention at that moment.
Second of these was the insanely funny love of organic chemistry he had, and how that shaped every class. Anyone who likes something this much gets my attention (again).
Third was when he tapped me on the shoulder and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should be getting involved in undergraduate research. To which my small town, wholly naive and unaware self replied: "Really, I can do that?" I appear to have gotten his attention, too.
I can tell you, now, that having an eye for talent and nurturing it is simply one of the best parts of this job - that and never having to buy your own airline ticket.
Bob never asked me to do that much for him over the years. We would see each other for a few dinners 2-3 times a year at professional meetings. But when he did ask, it just did not matter what it was - it was reasonable and appropriate, usually in my best interest anyhow, and it got done.
The small handful of my own students who read this are all nodding in that knowing "uh-hunh" sort of way right now. "So that's where he got that from..."
Yep. Spot on.