14 December 1937 - 13 January 2007
Former colleagues at the University of Kent were deeply saddened to learn of the sudden and untimely death of Professor Andy Williams on 13 January 2007. Andy had spent most of his working life at the University of Kent, quite literally rising through the ranks from his appointment in 1966 as a Lecturer in Chemistry to his retirement in 2000 as Professor of Organic Chemistry. Throughout this period his relentless pursuit was the elucidation of organic and bio-organic reaction mechanisms, an area in which he became a recognised authority with an international standing. From 1991- 1993 he had been a vice-president of the Perkin Division of the RSC.
Born shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Andy was educated at Hele's School, Exeter. He was awarded an open scholarship to read chemistry at Keble College Oxford but delayed taking it up in order to serve in the RAF between 1956 and 1958 in almost the last draft of National Service. He graduated BA with 1st Class Honours in 1962, and married Judith Dunn, who graduated at the same time with a degree in jurisprudence and later became a solicitor. Two years later, he obtained his D Phil from research carried out in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory under the guidance of the late Professor Gordon Lowe, FRS. 1964/65 was spent at North Western University, Illinois, USA as a Research Associate with Professor Myron Bender, a scientist who played a major role in bringing enzymology into the realm of chemistry and whose influence seeded many of the ideas that Andy would pursue thereafter. It was a foregone conclusion that on returning to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory on a NATO fellowship to work with Professor Sir Ewart Jones, FRS that he would research the mechanisms of enzymic processes.
In 1966, Andy joined the staff of the University of Kent's Department of Chemistry, known in those days as the Chemical Laboratory. He was one of the first appointees to this new department in the last of the new universities, and my first recollection of him when I joined the University a few years later was of a quite private and very dedicated scientist immersed in his research; indeed, it seemed that chemical research was not just in his blood but that it was his raison d'être. Over the years he was to publish over 200 original research papers on organic reaction mechanisms: enzyme mechanisms; dissociative mechanisms of acyl-group transfer; concerted mechanisms of carbonyl group transfer; phosphoryl group transfer and sulfuryl group transfer. In addition, he promoted the application of the concept of effective charge to the determination of electronic charge distribution in transition state structures. His many contributions to the advancement of organic chemistry have been drawn together in two monographs that he published during the 1990s, shortly before his retirement.
Reserved though he was, Andy's work was not carried out in ivory tower isolation. He spent a sabbatical year at Brandeis University in Massachusetts collaborating with W.P. (Bill) Jencks and his distinguished team. He also established close links with the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Genoa, where he spent eight months in 1984 as a Ciba-Geigy Senior Fellow. His close collaboration with Professors Sergio Thea and Giorgio Cevasco continued until his death. In addition to these international contacts there are many former research students and postdoctoral fellow who look upon Andy as a friend.
At the beginning of 1988 Andy was called upon to be Director of the Chemical Laboratory for a three year period. This was never a task that he relished but he saw it as a call to duty and was determined to carry it out to the best of his abilities, even though it took him away from his beloved research. His colleagues then realised the true mark of the man, for he served with scrupulous fairness and consideration for the interests of staff members and students alike. His legacy from this period is the Foundation Year to the degree programmes in Chemistry at Kent which, since it constitutes much of the present Foundation Year in Forensic Science, has outlived the department itself. This extra year was devised to bring on students who had either no formal qualifications, qualifications in the wrong subjects or who were mature students who had long lost their knowledge of chemistry from their schooldays, and there are many Kent chemistry graduates who would not otherwise have qualified who will admit that they owe a debt of gratitude to Andy.
On retirement in September 2000, Andy was accorded the status and title of Emeritus Professor of Organic Chemistry. He continued to teach chemistry as a part-time lecturer until 2004 and to research and publish even after he and Judith had relocated to the Norfolk Broads where they were able more easily to enjoy their lifelong love of sailing. He is survived by Judith and their two sons, Charles and James, and two small grandchildren. It is a point of satisfaction to Judith that Andy is still publishing beyond the time of his death for there are two research papers that will appear in press during 2007 and very shortly the Journal of Chemical Education will publish a paper of historical significance entitled Origin of the Formulae of Dihydrogen and Other Simple Molecules of which he was justly proud.
Richard G. Jones
Emeritus Professor of Polymer Science,
University of Kent