Chemistry Prof. Basolo ‘A Lifelong Friend’ To Students

Day Greenberg

By Day GreenbergThe Daily Northwestern

Fred Basolo, professor emeritus of chemistry, died Feb. 27 from congestive heart failure at the Midwest Palliative and Hospice Care Center in Skokie. He was 87.

Basolo began working at Northwestern in 1946 after participating in classified military research during World War II.

His colleagues credited him with helping make the chemistry department one of the top programs in the U.S. for inorganic chemistry.

“He was an absolute walking encyclopedia of inorganic chemistry,” said Prof. Brian Hoffman, who published papers with Basolo from 1970 to 1982.

“He supported my growth, he supported my career as a scientist and as a person, and my career is different than what it would have been without that interaction, and I’m sure (it’s) better.”

Students and colleagues said they remember Basolo as not only a teacher, but also as a mentor and friend who encouraged the growth of those with whom he came in contact.

Hoffman said a list of Basolo’s former students would include renowned scientists in both organic and inorganic chemistry.

“He advised us on every aspect of our life,” said Harry Gray, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology and one of Basolo’s former graduate students.

Gray said he’d meet in Basolo’s apartment on Saturday mornings with a group of other graduate students to get further lessons from him and NU Prof. James Ibers and former NU Prof. Ralph Pearson.

Basolo continued to meet with graduate students on Saturdays even after he retired from teaching at NU.

“He didn’t stop teaching us,” said Gray. “He was a lifelong friend. … We were tremendously impacted by his life.”

Basolo made several contributions to the world of chemistry during his career.

A book he wrote with Pearson, “Kinetics and Mechanisms of Inorganic Reactions,” has been called the “bible” of mechanistic inorganic chemistry.

He served as president of the American Chemical Society in 1983, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and earned international awards and recognitions from 1954 to 2001.

“When I came here in 1986 it was one of the best, most widely cited (programs) in doing cutting edge research. … He put a high standard for both teaching and research,” said inorganic chemistry Prof. Thomas O’Halloran.

“He was very active in organizing and was a real leader in the national and international chemistry communities.”

As an undergraduate, some of the textbooks O’Halloran used were written by Basolo.

Then, when O’Halloran began his teaching career at NU, Basolo offered him his old lecture notes and advice. They continued to share ideas, talking every week since 1986, O’Halloran said.

O’Halloran said Basolo’s work with inorganic chemistry was part of the reason he decided to join NU’s faculty.

“Fred had a huge impact in his field and in his students on campus, through his teaching and his discussion in research,” O’Halloran said. “But he was also a charismatic teacher and a charismatic person. People liked to hang out with him and talk with him and learn from him.”

Funeral Mass was March 3 at Glenview’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.

Basolo is survived by his three daughters, Mary Catherine Kunzer, Margaret Ann Silkaitis and Elizabeth Rose Pionke.

Reach Day Greenberg at [email protected]