Don Irish, recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, 1987


Donald Irish holds the rank of professor in the Department of Chemistry. He is an eminent scholar, internationally respected for his research in molecular spectroscopy. Professor Irish was chairman of chemistry from 1977 to 1983, and is now serving as executive director of the Faculty of Science foundation. The presence of Don Irish on the platform here this afternoon is another chapter in the remarkable story of a man who has grown with this university. The story begins in 1957 when Don Irish was appointed lecturer in chemistry in what was then known as Waterloo College Associate Faculties, just a few months before that institution became the University of Waterloo in an empty field at the end of the street. In those days, there were more titles than people, and the lecturer in chemistry was also the registrar. Don was given leave in 1958 to study for the PhD at the University of Chicago, and came back as Dr. Irish, assistant professor of chemistry in 1962. He has held the rank of professor since 1971. Today, Don Irish is being honoured not for being a pillar of the university, nor for his achievements in research, but for his great contribution as an influential teacher of Waterloo students. The case is stated by the chairman of chemistry in these words: “he has a 25-year record of consistent excellence and dedication to teaching which is unparalleled in science and can have few equals in the entire university.” The case was made in the letters which supported the nomination. These letters came from undergraduates and graduate students, from people who are here on campus, and from alumni who have gone far and wide and have themselves made important contributions to science, and from Don's colleagues. His supporters praise his profound knowledge of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. In referring to his teaching, they use words such as “care, concern, dedication, effectiveness, organization, clarity, encouragement, optimism, friendliness, sincerity, honesty, diligence, approachability. . .” One colleague describes him in these terms: “He is very much a father to his students, yet he continues to bring the enthusiasm of a youngster to his teaching - a rare combination.” But Don never lets his students lose sight of the work that is required for success. One colleague put it this way: “Professor Irish has that rare ability to motivate students, and although they usually mention that the workload in his courses is heavy, they always commend him for a job well done.”

[Professor Irish died in 2002]