Monday, March 16, 2020

In Memory of Sir Derek H.R. Barton, 22 Years Later

Sir Derek Harold Richard Barton— September 8, 1918 - March 16, 1998

As the calendar turned to this day, I was reminded that it had now been 22 years since the passing of one of the most important friends and mentors in my life and career, Sir Derek Harold Richard Barton.

As I reflected on the memorial service that Lady Judith Barton asked me to create working with our friend, Ron Carter, of the TAMU Chemistry Department, I went down the proverbial rabbit hole of "remember when." Special guests from all over the world came to honor Sir Derek, many of the day's leading scientists and scientific leaders, who were at the top of their fields, universities, and colleges as they took what they learned from Prof. Barton and achieved stellar heights of their own. At the time, I had no idea that one day I would be organizing memorial events on a daily basis as one of my primary professional endeavors. What a way to begin that path. But of course.

Join me for a stroll down memory lane. The first two pages here are the elements of Sir Derek's memorial program, held April 13, 1998 at Rudder Theatre at Texas A&M's campus.

What follows after is my tribute to his life and career, focused primarily on his time at Texas A&M, which was as prolific as it was impressive. When you do what you love every day, it is never just "going to work." He was often the first to arrive and set the example for his group. It is unfathomable that time has flown by--22 years feels like the blink of an eye. It was by his example as I watched a man of great faith holding onto it through times that were beyond painful, in the loss of his beloved wife, Christiane, to cancer. He remained humble, no matter how many accolades he received. His natural curiosity about life was a delight to see. He had a fabulous sense of humor that he reserved for appropriate times.

It was thanks to Sir Derek's friendship with dear friends Dr. Ian and Betty Scott, that he came here. It was Professor Scott who was a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at TAMU faculty as Dr. Barton and his wife Christiane Cognet considered where to go when Sir Derek had reached age 65 in France, meaning mandatory retirement. He'd have to either give up the research he loved or find a new place to work. He chose the latter. If it were not for Ian Scott, we'd have had no Derek Barton here.

He was a brilliant conversationalist who could speak on any subject at all, and when he did, his answers were kind. He never spoke ill of anyone. The only way in which you might know he didn't respect someone was in what he didn't say. A small smile would appear on his face and a slight tilt of his head....having thought the better of using mere words to describe his disdain. His group at Texas A&M and his wonderful assistant Karen Farnsworth meant so much to Sir Derek, especially following Christiane's passing. He worked through his grief by working and staying at the top of his field. Ultimately, he was fortunate to marry his third wife, Judith Cobb Barton, who encouraged him to continue his work, supplying the joy of shared time and interests. His final years were as inspired and prolific as his first, to be sure.

His tribute follows. Just click each photo once to read the full text clearly.

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