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Message on Robert A. Orwoll

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community May 31, 2017 - Ed.

Robert A. Orwoll, Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, died on May 26 after a lengthy illness.  He earned a B.A. from Saint Olaf College in 1962 and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 where he worked with the Nobel Laureate, Paul Flory.  He did postdoctoral work in the Department of Chemistry at Dartmouth College and the Institute of Materials Science at the University of Connecticut before coming to William & Mary in 1969 as an Assistant Professor.  In 1982, he was promoted to the rank of Professor.

Professor Orwoll pursued a successful research program in polymer chemistry throughout his career at William & Mary.  For a number of years he worked to develop materials designed to shield humans from the effects of cosmic rays encountered in travel to the moon and beyond.  Most recently he was working on materials to construct habitats on Mars by mixing simulated Martian soil with polymers. Over the course of his career he was the author or co-author of successful research proposals totaling over 3 million dollars.  He involved students at all levels in his research.  The large number of undergraduate students was enhanced by students at the Master’s level in Chemistry and Ph.D. students through the Applied Science Department.  He published a number of papers with these students as coauthors.  In addition, he published a number of chapters in reference books such as Polymer Handbook and Physical Properties of Polymers.  He had also been an active reviewer of manuscripts submitted for publication.

Teaching was always one of Professor Orwoll’s strongest endeavors.  He was respected by both students and colleagues as an excellent teacher who was truly interested in his students.  He taught the introductory level course and advanced courses in physical and polymer chemistry.  His ability to remember students from years ago was amazing and he continued corresponding with many of them. 

Professor Orwoll’s dedication to William & Mary is reflected in the service he gave on Chemistry Department, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, and College-wide committees.  The list of standing committees, ad hoc committees and search committees is long and varied.  He was a member of the Group to Revitalize the Applied Science Program and was a major contributor to its success.  He then served for two years as the Interim Director of the fledgling program followed by two years as Director.  During this time, he successfully launched the Applied Science Program which today is the Department of Applied Science.  Later, he served as chair of the Chemistry Department.  Throughout his tenure at William & Mary, Professor Orwoll served as an advisor, being named Outstanding Freshman-Sophomore Academic Advisor in 1992.  He was one of the original wizards for the Department magic shows.  He also presented these shows to children in the local schools and served as a judge at many local science fairs. 

He is survived by his wife Betty, two daughters, a stepson, and four grandchildren.  A memorial service/celebration of his life, will be held on Saturday, July 1, at 2 p.m. at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church.


Christopher J. Abelt

Chancellor Professor and Department Chair

Department of Chemistry