By Lewis Brubacher, colleague and friend
Gerry Toogood died on November 30, 2020. This leaves a large hole in our lives.
When I came to the University of Waterloo in August 1969, it did not take long to get to know Gerry. We soon became good friends in the Chemistry Department, and in later years we worked together on several departmental projects.
Gerry was born and educated in England. He began his PhD with Norman Greenwood at the University of Nottingham, and finished at Newcastle University in 1962 after Professor Greenwood moved there in 1961. He then took up a two-year postdoctoral position at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, where he met and married Patricia in 1964. They moved to Canada that same year and Gerry joined the Chemistry Department at the then seven-year-old University of Waterloo. He retired in 1996, but continued in his role as Director of International Exchange Programs for the Faculty of Science until 1998.
At UW, Gerry occasionally collaborated with colleagues on their research projects. But mainly he taught inorganic chemistry courses and supervised the associated laboratory courses. One of the latter was organized as modules that could be worked on in random order. Gerry was well liked by his students. Jean Hein, who was a student at UW from 1988-1993, writes: “I remember Gerry really cared about his students and the quality of his courses. When he gave back a graded lab, it was notoriously covered in ‘red pen’. He gave us lots of feedback and I don’t think I appreciated how much time he put into grading our reports. For his inorganic lab, he was ahead of his time by having each lab report in a different format — a presentation, an interview, a submission to a journal, a formal lab report, etc. It was a really good learning experience.”
Gerry was involved in many outreach activities for the Chemistry Department. He taught one of the Saturday courses for high school teachers. These courses were offered during the 1960s mainly for teachers seeking to upgrade their credentials, especially in chemistry and physics. Gerry also taught an early course by Distance Education, now known as Extended Learning.
One of his major contributions to outreach was organizing Chem Lab Day. This was entirely Gerry’s baby. Over ten years, from 1985 to 1994, Gerry organized an opportunity for a teacher and two of their brighter students from each of 15-24 local high schools to attend our Chemistry Department on a Saturday in April and carry out three high level experiments. Most of these were hands-on, under the supervision of chemistry faculty members, using instruments well beyond a high school chemistry lab. In addition, over lunch, one of the chemistry faculty members gave a lecture on their research work. These opportunities were well received by those who attended, some of whom drove more than two hours to be at the sessions.
Gerry was a key member of the organizing committees of two chemical education conferences held at UW: the 10th International Conference on Chemical Education in 1989, chaired by Peter Chieh, and the American Chemical Society’s Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in 1998, chaired by Reg Friesen Together, the two conferences brought nearly 2,000 chemistry educators to Waterloo from around the globe. In the BCCE conference planning committee, Gerry played an increasingly important role as Reg Friesen experienced declining health. Gerry’s uncanny ability to anticipate problems and his insistence on attention to detail were key to the success of both conferences.
Finally, Gerry contributed articles and puzzles to Chem 13 News, a magazine published by the Chemistry Department for teachers of introductory chemistry, from 1968 to 2019. Most notable were his 50 Molecule of the Month articles and an astounding 130 crostic puzzles. Through the magazine, which went to all parts of the globe, and through his travels to Chem Ed conferences, Gerry acquired a wide audience of friends and admirers.
After his retirement Gerry travelled widely, sometimes with Patricia, sometimes alone since Patricia did not like to fly. He especially enjoyed visiting daughter Anita, whether she was in England or Calgary. As Patricia’s health declined Gerry had to limit his absences from home, but after she died in 2014 he was free to roam once again.
He loved exploring new terrain, and bird watching. A few emails from my computer illustrate this:
From July 7, 2016: Since the last week of March I have been travelling most of the time — 4 weeks in UK, Sicily and Malta; 3 weeks in Spain and UK, followed by 3 driving to/from Calgary plus time with Anita. We are off to the Arctic on Sunday for 2 weeks. I will settle down later----maybe. Gerry
From May 3, 2017: I leave with Lynn for the Baltic countries and Russia on the 13th and return on the 31st. Much of June & July I am on an Adventure Canada trip, followed by Scandinavia in August. I went “owling” in Manitoba in March, and have just spent a week in Arizona with Anita. My neighbours wonder if I still live in my house !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let me know what works for you. I can do lunch or just coffee — where?? Gerry
And another one dated September 19, 2019: I am off to Ireland tomorrow, but only for 8 days. Can we meet early in October? Let me know a time that suits you for our chat. Gerry
Scott Nicoll, who worked in the Chemistry Department for nearly two decades before rising upwards in the UW system sent me these pertinent comments:
“To me Gerry is a part of the foundation story of Waterloo. His stories wove in and out of my own UW history. They created a feeling that UW’s foundational generation, within and outside of my immediate circle, was filled with good, unique, creative and sometimes hilarious people [such as Gerry]. I am sorry I will not hear him tell those stories again. I don’t want to tell stories — I want to hear him tell them!”
Gerry read widely. I would guess that he read two or more books every week in his retirement years when he was not travelling. He would buy a book, read it, maybe extract a quotation to use in a crostic, and then give the book away. He loved playing with words. He was great with anagrams. He loved history, nature, science, birds, and was always seeking new challenges. He was an extrovert, yet a very private person. Above all, he was a good friend and story-teller.
I will miss him greatly — we will all miss him.