McGlothlin (’01) killed in Iraqi firefight

Dick Kiefer wasn’t surprised when his former star student, Donald Ryan McGlothlin, told him two years ago that he was leaving the Stanford University’s graduate chemistry program to join the U.S. Marines.

McGlothlin, who graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2001 with honors in chemistry and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, had talked often about the military, said Kiefer, now a professor emeritus of chemistry. When he was an undergraduate, McGlothlin discussed his future plans after he left William and Mary. One option included pursuing graduate degrees in chemistry. Another involved serving his country.

“It didn’t surprise me because I knew it was something he had in mind,” said Kiefer, adding that McGlothlin was one of the brightest chemistry students he ever taught at William and Mary. “If he wasn’t the top student, he was certainly near the top. He was just a very well adjusted and mature young man.”

McGlothlin, a 26-year-old native of Lebanon, Va., was killed Wednesday during a firefight in Ubaydi, Iraq. According to a story in the Washington Post, McGlothlin, a Marine second lieutenant, was assigned to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. McGlothin’s unit was part of Operation Steel, a major offensive aimed at insurgents near the Syrian border.

In an e-mail to the campus community Friday, Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler said McGlothlin is believed to be the first William and Mary alumnus killed in the war in Iraq. In addition to being a Phi Beta Kappa graduate at William and Mary, McGlothlin had completed a master’s degree in chemistry at Stanford and was involved in doctoral studies there when he decided to enlist in the Marines, Sadler said.

“Those of us who knew Ryan know what a brilliant and capable person he was,” Sadler said. “Ryan’s death reminds us that, though war and danger may sometime seem far away, they are yet very near. Sadly, the promising life of a very special young man has ended prematurely. But his willingness to sacrifice for the things in which he believed now becomes his legacy to us.”

Sadler said the McGlothlin family has deep ties to the College—both of Ryan’s parents, as well as his brother and many relatives graduated from William and Mary. “Ryan was a part of the William and Mary family,” Sadler said. “We are diminished by his death and extend our deepest sympathy to his family and to his many friends.”

Sadler said friends described McGlothlin as someone of great integrity who was both brilliant and focused. He said it was in the classroom that McGlothlin excelled.

At William and Mary, McGlothlin and Kiefer worked closely together on a research project for NASA Langley Research Center. Nicknamed “Mars Bars,” the project involved using polyethylene and a simulated lunar surface mixture to make bricks that could one day be used to build habitats and protect astronauts against radiation on Mars.

“Ryan took the project to new heights,” Kiefer said. “He made a lot of the first materials we studied. He was a very good student and a very pleasant person to know.”