Dr. Stephen Taylor (1944-2019) : Professor, Mentor, Chemist, Friend
When I was a sophomore at Hope College, I met an amazing man. He taught my first organic chemistry class. He welcomed me into his research lab. He mentored me in writing my first publication. He contributed to the development of my identity through reflection during his senior seminar course. He always made me laugh at his ridiculous jokes. He encouraged me to go to graduate school. He inspired me to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. He taught me how to cut out pieces of the gas chromatogram and weigh them to determine ee’s when the dot printer didn’t integrate. He didn’t give up on me when my first synthetic project in organic chemistry II lab turned into tar. He instilled in me the importance of maintaining an organized and accurate lab notebook.
This man was Dr. Stephen Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Hope College. On January 17, 2019, Dr. Taylor passed away. Since I read the news, I have reflected on a number of my memories of him. Here are few:
- Whenever a carbon was drawn with 5 bonds (not something that can happen), Dr. Taylor would say “Moses would be throwing rocks down at that.” I’m not really sure exactly what he meant, but I definitely learned it was wrong. I still say it in my head anytime I see a student draw 5 bonds to carbon.
- “Bells… gone home” During my first summer of research, there were some issues with the fire alarms. They kept going off randomly. My labmates (the Matts) and I came back from lunch to a sign on the door in Dr. Taylor’s very messy handwriting that read “Bells… gone home”.
- When his wife was out of town, Dr. Taylor would wash his hair in the sink of the lab. And then he would dry his hair with the heat gun.
- I still remember getting one of the problems wrong on his organic chemistry exam. It was a challenging textbook problem (that he had suggested we do); instead of correcting the answer, Dr. Taylor wrote the question # and page # on the exam. He then proceeded to lecture the whole class about why we should do the book problems since the majority of us did not get it right.
- I remember returning to Hope a few years after Dr. Taylor retired and receiving a copy of the book he had written “Publish and Flourish“. I have the signed copy in my office today (and if you look on last page, you will see a picture that includes me).
- When we got our rejection letter from the Journal of Organic Chemistry, where we first submitted the paper I have from undergrad, Dr. Taylor sent me the reviews (in the mail!). He included a letter that said, I think it is important that you read these so you know what they said. They were not the nicest critiques, but everything makes you stronger. Plus it got published in Tetrahedron: Asymmetry so in the end it all works out.
- I remember all of Dr. Taylor’s encouraging emails – the inspirational ones when I was in graduate school, the congratulatory one when he saw I had graduated from Duke and that I was heading to Illinois for a post-doc, and the one asking where I had accepted a faculty position.
Dr. Taylor’s commitment to undergraduate research was phenomenal. He nurtured our curious minds, taught us techniques, and made everyday enjoyable. He is one of the reasons I am where I am today. The world lost a great man, but heaven gained a true believer. He will live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew him well.
Here is a picture of the Taylor research lab at Hope College during Summer 2004 (L-R, Dr. Taylor, Matt, Julie, Matt):