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Robert W. Parry

  • Born: October 1, 1917, Ogden, Utah
  • Died: December 1, 2006, Salt Lake City, Utah

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0257
Interview Date: July 19, 2002
Location: University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
Interviewers: Arthur Daemmrich and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 45
Sponsor: Gordon Research Conferences
Gordon Research Conferences

  Abstract of Interview

Robert W. Parry begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood in Ogden, Utah. After graduating from Ogden High School, Parry attended Weber College for two years, where he studied chemistry until his funding ran out. At that point, Parry started performing research for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. When Rudger H. Walker, Parry's supervisor at the Forest Service, became dean of the College of Agriculture at Utah State University in Logan, Parry followed him, and there received his B.S. in 1940. Parry continued his education, earning his M.S. from Cornell University in 1942 and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1946. Parry briefly discusses his early career, which included positions at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, the Munitions Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and the University of Utah. Parry then discusses at length his experiences with the Gordon Research Conferences (GRC). Parry attended his first conference on inorganic chemistry in the 1950s and has attended almost every Inorganic Chemistry Conference since. Parry has served GRC as a conference chairman, as an executive committee member, and as chairman of the board of directors. Parry describes the evolution of GRC through four distinct eras: the Gibson Island Conferences, and the directorships of W. George Parks, Alexander M. Cruickshank, and Carlyle B. Storm. Parry concludes the interview with a discussion of the strengths and importance of GRC.


1940 B.S., Chemistry, Utah State University, College of Agriculture
1942 M.S., Inorganic Chemistry, Cornell University
1946 Ph.D., Inorganic Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

University of Illinois

1943 - 1945 Research Assistant, National Defense Research Committee, Munitions Development Laboratory

University of Illinois

1945 - 1946 Teaching Fellow

University of Michigan

1946 - 1969 Faculty Member

University of Michigan

1958 - 1969 Professor of Chemistry

Inorganic Chemistry

1960 - 1963 Founding Editor

University of Utah

1969 - 1997 Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

University of Utah


Professor Emeritus


1972 Manufacturing Chemists Award for College Teaching
1980 Senior U.S. Scientist Award, Alexander Von Humboldt-Stiftung
1985 D.Sc., honoris causa, Utah State University
1987 First Governor's Medal of Science, State of Utah
1997 D.Sc., honoris causa, University of Utah

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Personal Background and Education 1

Family background and encouragement of education. Undergraduate studies at Weber State College and Utah State University. Research work for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Graduate studies at Cornell University.

Career Path 2

Development of a new tetryl plant for E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company during World War II. Work at the Munitions Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Doctoral studies with John C. Bailar. Tenured professorship at the University of Michigan. Being lured to the University of Utah by James C. Fletcher.

First Experiences with the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) 5

Attending the first Inorganic Chemistry GRC, presentation on boron chemistry, and being "eaten alive" by conferees. Format and atmosphere of GRC presentations. Attendance and continuity of the Inorganic Chemistry Conference. Conference sites.

Conference Operations 10

Applying to GRC. Election of conference chairs. Institution of vice chairs. Cultivation of industrial support by W. George Parks. Establishment of daily schedule by Neil E. Gordon. Involvement of women. Conferees' families at GRC.

Financial Support of GRC in the 1950s and 1960s 15

Institutional diversity of conferees. Industrial participation and support. Fundraising techniques of Parks and Gordon. First non-industry grant, and development of federal support for GRC. Controversy over military-funded research in the 1970s.

Parks' Resignation 21

Four eras of GRC. Parry as board chair. Parks is prosecuted by the IRS and resigns.

Evolution of GRC after Parks' Directorship 25

Roles of Alex and Irene Cruickshank in operations under Parks. Alex appointed director. Gradual shift to academic domination of attendance. Conference evaluation and the selection and scheduling committee. GRC finances. Diversity of attendance and relationship to successful conferences. Storm's leadership and expansion overseas.

Conclusion 34

Path to becoming GRC board chair. GRC expansion and public relations. GRC's impact on science.

Notes 40

Index 41

  About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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