In memory of Robert Le Roy: Family establishes undergraduate chemistry scholarship

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Robert Le RoyFor nearly 50 years, University Professor Robert Le Roy was a presence in the Department of Chemistry. It is with deep regret that we learned he passed away quietly at home earlier this month, surrounded by his family.

The department was touched to learn that within days of their loss, Robert’s wife, Virginia, and their children, reached out to the university to establish the Robert J. Le Roy Memorial Scholarship. This annual scholarship will be awarded to the top Chemistry undergraduate in their third or fourth year based on academic performance. 

“Bob was a outstanding academic and a great colleague – he will have a long and lasting impact on this department,” says Professor Bill Power, Chair of Chemistry. “That his family is establishing this legacy in his name ensures future students will appreciate this impact as much as all his own past students do, to this day. We are enormously grateful to have this honour to bestow on our best students, and it is a very fitting tribute to Bob.”

A mentor of mentors

Professor Le Roy studied chemistry as an undergraduate and master’s student at the University of Toronto. Upon graduating with his PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1971, he returned to Southern Ontario, where he joined the University of Waterloo as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Robert Le Roy.Professor Robert Le Roy in 1974.

His work in theoretical chemistry modeling was ground-breaking, particularly in molecular spectroscopy and the calculation of interatomic and intermolecular forces – what he himself referred to as the “sex life” of simple molecules.

He was renowned for his development of the near-dissociation theory with R.B. Bernstein (the Le Roy-Bernstein theory), and for the derivation of the Le Roy Radius, defined as the internuclear distance between two atoms at which the Le Roy-Bernstein theory becomes valid. He was also the author of several well-known software tools designed to address a variety of problems in chemical or molecular physics.

Among his many awards, he received the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada (1984) and the J. Heyrovsky Honorary Medal for Merit in the Chemical Sciences by the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (1995). He was named a University Professor in 2011 – a rare title reserved for the University of Waterloo’s most internationally pre-eminent faculty.

Robert Le Roy with his wife Virginia at his retirement in 2003.Professor Le Roy at his retirement party in 2013.

Even after his retirement in 2013 (right), Professor Le Roy remained highly active. He was often seen on campus, advising students and continuing to contribute to his field scientifically. He published nearly 20 papers as an emeritus professor, garnering nearly half of his overall citations during this period in his career.

“Bob was one of the most helpful and supportive people early on in my career at the University of Waterloo,” says Pavle Radovanovic, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. “He was always so generous in sharing his enormous knowledge and experience, and offering helpful advice. I will forever remember Bob for his optimism, enthusiasm, generosity, and passion for science. I will miss him very much.”

Robert Le Roy with colleagues in 2007.From left to right: Professors Robert Le Roy, Pavle Radovanovic, Christian Reber (University of Montreal) and Marcel Nooijen at the UW Grad House in 2007.

Join us for a special memorial event

A special memorial event will be held for Professor Le Roy from 2-4 pm in the Science Teaching Complex (STC), at the University of Waterloo on Saturday, October 13, 2018. For more information please contact Meaghan Middleton.

Read more about Professor Le Roy in the Globe and Mail.

Donations to the Robert J. Le Roy Memorial Scholarship can be made online through the university’s Support Waterloo portal.

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