Issue Date: September 14, 2015 | Web Date: September 18, 2015
Eli Pearce, Humanitarian
Soon entering the fourth and last decade of my academic career as a chemistry professor, I increasingly find it intriguing to end my weekly reading of C&EN with the obituary section. There, I undergo a nostalgic melancholy trance as I grapple with a past professor, a colleague, or a role model having just reached equilibrium with Mother Nature.
Other than the obituary of my Ph.D. mentor, the late “Biosensor Guru” George Gerald Guilbault, none has impacted me as profoundly as the obit of Eli Pearce (C&EN, June 1, page 34).
I got to know Eli through his ACS contributions when I came to New York from New Orleans in the mid-1980s. I soon found in him my new lifelong mentor, a sage man of reason and intellect and a true mensch. His humanistic attributes—including volunteerism, philanthropy, and altruism—only superseded his stellar teaching and scholarship.
For example, after the 1979 revolution in Iran, a number of Pearce’s former Ph.D. students, who were then university professors in Iranian universities, were struggling to return with their families to the U.S. This was a daunting task, not only because of exit visa restrictions from their homeland, but also because of visa denials by the U.S. Department of State and a lack of employment opportunities.
Eli single-handedly followed up to secure them reentry to the U.S., where, after another postdoctoral stint in his group, each landed a position with a prominent corporation. They have subsequently contributed to advancing U.S. science and technology as well as the economy.
Although it’s understandable not to be able to include all of his major contributions, one oversight in Pearce’s obituary was his editorship of the “Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology,” which led to his overseeing the Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Foundation.
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