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Marshall William Cronyn ’40

A picture of Marshall Cronyn

Marshall William Cronyn ’40, December 30, 2007, in Portland, from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Marsh Cronyn received a BA from Reed in chemistry. In 1942, he married Vesta E. Wetterborg ’41; they attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where Cronyn received a PhD in organic chemistry in 1944. His thesis and postdoctoral work involved synthesis projects with a variety of medicinal goals; medicinal synthesis, which had been of interest to him even for his Reed senior thesis, remained a primary focus in his career research. From 1946 to 1952, he was a postdoctoral fellow and later an assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley. He joined the Reed faculty in 1952 as associate professor in chemistry. Tom Dunne, Reed professor emeritus of chemistry [1963–95], described Cronyn's work in this way: “His research targets broadened beyond the medicinal (grant-supported pursuit of anti-malarials and anti-carcinogenics) to a very clever, patented proposal to store elemental hydrogen fuel by its reversible adsorption in liquid organics. Perhaps this hydrogen play stimulated him to dream up his recent version of the periodic table of the chemical elements. We'll never know. Lignin also was a significant source of research interest for Marsh and his students-sub-theme: chemistry of the environment-early example.” Cronyn, Dunne noted, was active in the Portland community, in study committees for the City Club of Portland, and membership on the board of the Oregon Research and Technology Development Corporation. “Of course, his powerful, natural gift for friendship generally aided his outside ventures as well as his Reed activity (advising many senior theses students, setting colleagues straight, chemistry department chair [1966–73], college provost [1982–88]),” Dunn added. Cronyn's retirement from Reed came in 1989, but he continued to be an active presence in the chemistry department until the time of his death. His students benefited from the Socratic method he employed in his teaching, as well as his spontaneity and the depth of his knowledge. John Bauman ’80 noted: “I think of Marsh Cronyn as the ideal college professor. I was confused a lot in organic chemistry. I struggled. But, when you went to see him, he would spend as much time as you wanted. There was always a line of kids outside his office. Until you were done, he was just an incredibly patient person. He was Socratic in the way he dealt with you. He kept asking questions back. But he'd never kick you out. You never felt like he was impatient. You never felt like he gave up on you. The whole time. A brilliant man.” Randy Lathrop ’80 stated: “ . . . what impressed me about Marsh Cronyn is that he would walk in with a little yellow scrap of paper. He'd maybe glance at it, and then start talking. He would fill a very large board, like three or four boards. He was just so loosely organized. It was instructive and difficult, but clear. It was amazing that somebody could just walk into a room and do that. A lot of people would get themselves lost. It's easy to do if you know too much. Marsh never got lost.” Peter Steinberger [political science 1977–], dean of the faculty, said that Cronyn was a “brilliant, distinguished, dedicated, and utterly delightful” colleague, who, among many other things, played a central role in establishing and maintaining the national prominence of Reed's chemistry program. Cronyn's brother, George W. Cronyn ’48, also graduated from Reed. Survivors include his two daughters. Betty died in 1997.

Appeared in Reed magazine: May 2008

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