December 8, 2021 at 8:31 am

University Mourns Chemistry Professor Emeritus Gary Pfeiffer

Gary Pfeiffer,p;ortrait

Dr. Gary Pfeiffer

The Ohio University community mourns the loss of Dr. Gary Pfeiffer, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

Pfeiffer, 81, passed away peacefully at his home in Athens, according to his obituary. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 51 years; his daughter, Amy and her wife Gina; and his son, Scott and his wife Karolyn, all of whom surrounded him with love and light in his final weeks. Also surviving are his brother Arden and many beloved nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his mother, Doris M. Coates Pfeiffer, and his father, Howard R. Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer was born on Feb. 1, 1940, in Wellsville, New York. At the age of 12, a chemistry set gifted to him by his parents set him upon the path he would follow for the rest of his life. He graduated valedictorian at the age of 17 from the tiny high school where his aunt, mother, and grandmother all taught. Thus began a lifetime of academic success, which came to him as naturally as breathing. In 1961, he graduated from the University of Rochester; he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon in 1966. After post-doctoral work at Princeton University, he came to Ohio University in Athens in 1967 to join the faculty of the Chemistry Department. Apart from a year-long sabbatical at the University of California, Berkeley in 1977, he taught physical chemistry and freshman chemistry at Ohio University full-time for the next 36 years.

“In addition to being a valued colleague in the department, Gary was such a kind and gentle person. One vivid memory I have of Gary was when we first met during my campus interview. These interviews can be very stressful and tiring for the candidates trying to ‘sell themselves’ to each faculty member of the department during one-on-one interviews,” said Dr. Martin Tuck. “I met with Gary late in the afternoon after an exhausting day. He had such a kind and calming demeanor, he immediately made me feel relaxed and we had a very pleasant conversation about my science but other topics as well. It was really at that point that I decided I did want to be a member of the department if the job was offered. I’m certain I will keep this memory forever. He will be missed.”

After his partial retirement in 2003, he continued teaching part-time for another seven years, taking full retirement in 2010. He chaired the Faculty Senate from 1999-2001 and served as its secretary and treasurer in other years.

“Gary’s work was theoretical physical chemistry—the last of such at Ohio University,” said Dr. Howard Dewald, noting that Pfeiffer supervised four Ph.D. students. “Gary’s demeanor was patience and calm. He had a big smile. He took over for me as Honors Tutorial College Director of Studies and worked well with the students.”

Gary Pfeiffer, portrait outdoors

Dr. Gary Pfeiffer

In 1970, Pfeiffer met the love of his life, Barbara, on a ski trip in Black Falls, West Virginia. They were married seven months later. Together, they saw the world. After raising a family and retiring, their adventures took them across the United States and to places as far-flung as China, Vietnam, Morocco, Australia, Russia and Peru, to name a few. Gary and Barbara spent a month in both Paris and New York City, two of their favorite cities.

A vigorous and active man, he jogged four miles with Barbara every morning for many years. He was a dangerous tennis player from a young age: his many tennis buddies and opponents always testified to his prowess on the court. Always competitive, he loved games, especially Scrabble, in which he was notorious for pondering his moves for minutes on end.

He treasured books and the written word, especially history and science. As much as he loved to read, he equally valued conversation. He was always well-informed, a lively, nondogmatic, and witty raconteur and debater. For years, he was part of a close-knit group of friends known as “the gourmet group,” who would meet at each other’s homes for internationally-themed dinner parties that would range deep into the night.

He loved the arts, especially painting. He visited many of the world’s great art museums, and he was a board member of Friends of the Kennedy Art Museum in Athens. He also served for many years as the Friends’ treasurer.

A man of science, he was endlessly curious about the way the world works. As logical, rational and analytical as he was, though, he was just as warm and openhearted: no one was more likely to cry at a moving movie. His living example of how to treat other people will continue to inspire his family every day for the rest of our lives. We loved his smile and we will carry him with us, always.




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