May 30, 1907–August 9, 1959
BY STUART A. RICE AND FRANK H. STILLINGER
IT IS A DISTRESSING fact that many of the most creative individuals suffer premature death, thereby robbing humanity of unrealized contributions. Examples abound in literature, music, and the graphic arts, as well as the fields honored by the National Academy of Sciences. John Gamble Kirkwood was one of these individuals; his remarkable career was compressed into just fifty-two years of life. During this shortened interval he managed to create a solid theoretical underpinning for many aspects of modern physical chemistry, with ramifications that still provide compelling directions for investigation forty years after his death. His legacy also includes a group of students and collaborators who developed into outstanding scientists, and whose research activities bear the imprint of the unmistakable Kirkwood style.
John Gamble Kirkwood ("Jack" to his family, friends, colleagues, and students) was the first child born to John Millard and Lillian Gamble Kirkwood in the small town of Gotebo, Oklahoma. His father had worked his way through college and law school in Chicago, and with a good business sense became a successful independent distributor for the Goodyear Corporation in the Midwest. Two sisters completed the immediate family: Caroline, born two years after Jack, and Margaret, who was fourteen years his junior.