Jonathan Williams who has died suddenly at the age of 55 was appointed as Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Bath in 1996, aged 31, remaining there until his untimely death on Saturday 3 August.
At Bath his research focused on the use of transition metals for the synthesis of useful organic molecules. Professor Williams was Head of Department from 2000 -2003 and Deputy Head of Department from 2015-2018. His primary concerns were with fostering student learning and the development of talent, within his specialised field of research. Professor Andrew Burrows, Head of the Chemistry Department said - 'His research on developing new catalytic processes in organic chemistry was world leading. Many past members of Jon's group have gone on to successful careers in chemistry, both in academia and industry, and this is testimony to Jon's enthusiasm and extremely supportive mentorship.'
In the roles of both prolific author of learned papers, which generated a vast number of citations - and as visiting professor - Professor Williams was globally recognised for the originality and importance of his research. He frequently lectured abroad in China, Japan and throughout much of Europe. Although principally concerned to promote awareness of his group's unique research, via academic papers, he was also the author/editor of two books, published shortly after he joined Bath
- Catalysis in Asymmetric Synthesis, Sheffield Academic Press. 1999
- Preparation of Alkenes A Practical Approach, Ed. Oxford University Press. 1996
Professor Ian White, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bath stated - 'His receipt of the Wolfson Research Merit Award from 2012 to 2017, awarded only to truly outstanding scientists, demonstrates the excellent quality and positive impact of his work'.
On completion of his education at King's School, Worcester, he gained a place to read chemistry at Imperial College.
He took a keen interest in sports, including cycling, canoeing, rock-climbing, marathons and triathlons.
Williams was also an accomplished classical guitarist, and whilst using this talent, busking with friends in London, he met Cathy, who was to become his wife, and the love of his life.
Though a "natural" scientist he also took a great interest in the humanities. Finding the strictly scientific atmosphere of Imperial restricting, he moved to the University of York where he received a first-class honours degree in chemistry and additionally, the University Chemistry Prize.
Following York, he went to Keble College Oxford, where he gained a D. Phil. in Organic Chemistry, working with Professor Steve Davies
From Oxford, he went to Harvard University for two years' post-doctoral research with Professor David Evans' Group. On completion of his research at Harvard, he moved back to Britain to take on a lecturer's role in organic Chemistry, at the University of Loughborough. He enjoyed his time there, specialising in research into alkenes, compounds with double bonds between carbon atoms. Promoted to Senior Lecturer, in an early contribution to the field, Williams demonstrated that man-made transition metal catalysts and Nature's enzymes could work together to make complex organic molecules with exquisite selectivity.
Delighted to be offered the post of Professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Bath in 1996, he quickly discovered fulfilling research, talented professional colleagues and a supportive congenial working environment. At Bath he carried out world-leading research in sustainable chemistry, he introduced the concept of 'Borrowing Hydrogen' to perform what most chemistry academics would call impossible reactions. There his reputation is one of a legendary, creative and imaginative organic chemist, who was always unfailingly kind and modest: a true gentleman.
In November 2013, his world all but collapsed with the sudden and untimely death, from an undiagnosed heart infection, of Cathy, his beloved partner, then wife, of over 30 years. In spite of his own grief, and with great courage and determination, he devoted himself to supporting his children Charlotte, Sam, and twins Alice and Harry in their loss.
A real joy in his life later, was the birth of three grand-daughters, Evie, Lily and Sophie who adored him for his exciting and simulating sense of fun.
Delayed distress on the death of Cathy, however, led to nervous exhaustion during more recent years. The irony of his sudden death is that he was overcoming his profound loss, immersing himself in his work, his supportive family, and finding fulfilment in his life.
Michael and Brenda Williams
9 September 2019