Robert Michael Williams (1953-2020)

Categories: Alumni

Dr. Williams (PhD '79) passed away on May 13, 2020, after a two-year battle with prostate cancer.

The following obituary originally appeared on the Colorado State University Department of Chemistry website.

Robert Michael Williams was born on February 8th, 1953, to Valentine and Edith (Gentile) Williams in New York City, NY, and grew up in Huntington, NY. One of three sons, older brother Ronald (lost to polio at age 7) and younger brother William (Bill).

Bob graduated from John H. Glenn H.S. Class of 1971, studied chemistry under Professor Ei-ichi Negishi at Syracuse University in NY (BA with highest distinction in 1975), and earned his PhD in organic chemistry in 1979 with Professor William H. Rastetter. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. Following postdoctoral studies at Harvard University in the laboratory of the late Professor R. B. Woodward (a Nobel prize winner) and Professor Y. Kishi, Bob was hired as assistant professor at Colorado State University in 1980. He was promoted to associate professor in 1985 and full professor in 1988. In 1990 he was appointed visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1994 a visiting professor of chemistry at Harvard University. In 2002 he became a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University, the University’s highest honor. His research interests included natural products synthesis, biomechanistic and biosynthetic problems with an emphasis on antitumor and antimicrobial antibiotics. His honors and awards include the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 2002 and the Ernest Guenther Award in the chemistry of natural products in 2011 both from the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Williams loved his career to the fullest extent. Throughout it, Bob held 28 patents, authored three textbooks, wrote and published 354 technical papers, and testified as an expert witness for more than 40 patent-litigation suits. A personal career highlight was meeting Professor Dr. HRH Princess Chublahorn Mahidor of Thailand twice. First when HRH visited him and his lab in 2015, and second when he gave the opening lecture of the conference “Innovation in Cancer and Care” in 2017 on the occasion of HRH’s 60th birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. Bob served on numerous editorial boards for various journals, provided consulting services for over 15 companies, served on advisory boards, and codirected two startups, and directed the Colorado Center for Drug Discovery during his tenure at CSU since 2012. He cared deeply for his science, politics, the environment, and all those he loved and mentored over the years.

Bob married Jill Elizabeth Janssen in Estes Park on July 8th, 1995. Their best times together were raising their family, being in the outdoors especially the mountains in Colorado, the beaches on every island in Hawaii, the waters of Horsetooth Reservoir and Sag Harbor, NY, as well as frequent world-wide traveling. Two fantastic children came into their lives when they were born. Ridge Janssen Williams on Feb. 23, 2001, and Rainier Valentine Williams on Aug. 20, 2005. Bob helped them with their studies, coached them in baseball and went to all their games and took them to guitar and golf lessons, caring for them with great love. The family spent special time together living in Yokohama, Japan, for part of 2013.

Bob was an accomplished musician and electric guitar player, and recorded three albums (Strat’ovarious, Strat’osphere, and Strat’ogee) with more than 50 songs, some of which are available on You-Tube including “Pali Gap” by Jimi Hendrix and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. Bob was an accomplished skier and motorboat enthusiast, including building small speedboats. Bob was also an avid bicyclist, competing professionally in his youth, and as a golfer he won the Fort Collins Country Club Member-Guest Championship in 2010. He was skilled at woodworking including making furniture, picture frames and detailed boxes. He created many oil paintings, was a science fiction enthusiast, a very fine cook, and cherished his Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Bob was thoroughly loved by his family and many friends and colleagues. Bob passed on May 13, 2020, in the early evening at home with his wife and children after a two-year battle with prostate cancer. Bob is survived by his wife, Jill; sons, Ridge and Rainier; brother Bill (Lorraine); brother and sister-in-law Rob (Ginger) and Rachel; and four nieces and two nephews. Also his mother and father-in-law Paul and Judy.

The family intends to have a celebration of life event later this year in Fort Collins. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Dr. Robert M. Williams Professorship Endowment in Organic Chemistry in his honor.