July 24, 1936–May 18, 1981


MAY 18, 1981, WAS a rainy morning in Urbana, Illinois. My phone rang. It was Peter Beak. “Bill died,” he said. “Bill” was Willis H. Flygare. He was a close friend to Peter Beak, a mentor to me, husband of Ruth, and father of Karna, John, Amy, and Sarah. He was 44 years old. He was a great physical chemist. He died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; in America often called Lou Gehrig’s disease).

During the next two years the American Chemical Society held a memorial symposium honoring Bill Flygare, and both the Journal of Chemical Physics (vol. 78, no. 6) and the Journal of Physical Chemistry (vol. 87, no. 12), the primary physical chemistry publications of that time, produced large memorial issues honoring him. The issue of the Journal of Chemical Physics alone contained 117 original research articles written by scientists throughout the world, filling 965 journal pages covering every imaginable facet of research in physical chemistry. It was the largest single issue of its kind, an unprecedented outpouring of respect and gratitude reflecting the significance of Bill’s life. He was a remarkably productive and influential scientist. He was charismatic. He had an enthusiasm for life and a sense of humor that were difficult to match. Above all, as I try to describe in the following pages, he was brave.

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