ROYSTON M. ROBERTS
Our longtime colleague and friend
Royston M. Roberts passed away on October 26, 1996, at the age of 78,
at his home in Austin, Texas. He is survived by his beloved
three sons (Richard, David, and Stanley), and a daughter (Jean Ellen).
Royston, or Roy as he was usually called by his colleagues,
was born and educated in Sherman, Texas, and
continued his higher education as a chemistry major at Austin College
in Sherman. After graduating in 1936, Roy pursued graduate
organic chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
where he earned both his MS (1941) and PhD (1944) degrees in
working with the well-known organic chemist Professor C. C. Price as
his supervising professor for both degrees. With Price, Roy
and patented a new synthesis for chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug,
which was implemented commercially for use by our armed forces
War II, and which, amazingly, is still in use for the synthesis of
this drug today. Armed with his PhD, Roy began his professional
a research chemist with the Merck Company, where he briefly worked
on chemistry related to penicillin. However, his real love
was the academic
environment and, after just one year at Merck, he accepted a Research
Corporation Postdoctoral Fellowship with the renowned Professor
Winstein at the University of California at Los Angeles. As revealed
by one of his letters to the chemistry department at The University
of Texas, his goal, even prior to joining Professor Winsteins
group, was to return to Texas and embark there on a teaching and research
career. Roys application to the Department of Chemistry here
was well received and he was offered an assistant professorship at
salary of $3,000 (for the academic year). Although Roy very much wanted
this position, he boldly rejected the initial offer, which was less
than his postdoctoral salary at UCLA. After several stages of further
negotiation, Roy finally accepted a sweetened offer of $3,400 and promptly
began a distinguished research and teaching career that ultimately
nearly 50 years (1947-1996).
Roy quickly established a research
program that was well recognized nationally and internationally. Its
emphasis was in the area of physical-organic chemistry, which was then
burgeoning and in which he had received excellent training in the Winstein
laboratories. He was perhaps best known for his work in the area of
the mechanisms of Friedel-Crafts alkylation reactions and of the carbocation
rearrangements that sometimes accompany these Lewis acid catalyzed
In fact, one of the authors of this article (coincidentally at the
University of Illinois at the time) was first attracted to The University
by an elegant Roberts article on the rearrangement of a carbon-14 label
in ethylbenzene. He also remains well known for his research on the
novel "enolene" rearrangement, on cyclialkylation, and on
the structure of coal and lignite.
During the course of his long career,
Roy supervised the research of 25 doctoral candidates and 22 masters
candidates and published more than 125 articles in scientific journals.
He also wrote three books and several book chapters. The classic and
highly popular sophomore organic laboratory textbook Introduction
to Experimental Organic Chemistry, cowritten with Professors Gilbert,
Rodewald and Wingrove, has continued to be popular through four editions.
In his later years, Roy also wrote the internationally popular lay work
Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. Revealing even
more versatility, he teamed up with his daughter, Jean Ellen, to write
childrens book Lucky Science, which brings the magic of
science to a younger audience.
A hallmark of Roy as an academician
was his promotion of the careers of his younger colleagues. He was
a perennial source of wisdom for his junior faculty and provided invaluable
insights regarding teaching and research alike. His philosophy was
of egalitarianism, and Roy always made decisions to the benefit of
his colleagues rather than to himself.
In addition to his love of
chemistry, Roy maintained a strong interest in travel and most especially
with developing collaborations with chemists from other countries.
Sponsored by a Petroleum Research Fund International Fellowship, Roy
1959-1960 year at the University of Zurich, where he enjoyed a fruitful
collaboration with Professor Hans Schmid. In 1967, he was invited to
be a visiting professor at the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany.
A Fulbright-Hays Fellowship enabled him to travel to the Bucharest
Institute in Romania in 1978, and in 1982 he traveled and lectured
extensively in Egypt.
Early in his career at The University
of Texas at Austin, Roy often taught the advanced physical-organic
chemistry course in the graduate program, and throughout his career
outstandingly to the teaching of "sophomore organic chemistry"
both in the classroom and in the laboratory. Even after his retirement,
Roy continued to teach this course virtually every semester for several
years. Although Roy was always well liked by the students (considering
the nature of the course), some of his very effective teaching toolsthe
scheduled quiz and especially the pop-quizwere not so universally
admired by them.
Roy was a member of many organizations,
including Sigma Xi, Alpha Chi Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Lambda Upsilon,
the Chemical Society (London), and the American Chemical Society. He
served as book editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society
for several years and was a long-term consultant to Conoco. Roy was
a member of the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Austin
College, for many years. He was honored with a doctor of science degree
there in 1965.
Roys contributions to chemistry
have gained national and international recognition for their originality
and excellence. Their effect upon the progress of the science of chemistry
was, and will continue to be, important. Nevertheless, the most distinctive
feature of Royston Robertss life was that he was a devoted and
dedicated Christian, who served numerous terms as an elder in the University
Presbyterian Church and who was active in this churchs campus
outreach. His faith and his family were the central priorities in his
life, and the honesty, integrity, gentleness, and fairness that flowed
from that faith and from those priorities will not be forgotten.
Larry R. Faulkner,
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared by Professors Nathan L. Bauld
(chair) and John C. Gilbert.