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A Tribute to Paul Field

This past Saturday I gave the mission moment at the Team practice.  Actually it was the last practice of the season.  I wish I could have done better justice to all that was Dr. Paul Field but this was a rambling of the great impression he made on me and a tribute the the amazing man I knew he was.  Those of you who knew him would most likely agree.

Paul Field

I want to talk about a Professor of mine at Virginia Tech. Paul Field. I met him in 1994 when he showed me how to solve the chemistry problems using programing in BASIC. For those of you that don’t know, BASIC is one of the original computing languages that we used way before the internet. In any case, Paul really stuck on us Freshmen that year. Especially with all the great characters we had in the chemistry department. For most Field was kind of a little antiquated and out there.

Really, he was the George Carlin of chemistry. His view on the universe and the science was distinct and he was totally dedicated to finding answers to those questions. Over the next 3 and a half years I had the pleasure 4 more classes with him. I actually got all grades from him, A-F. But during those hours and hours of education I started to understand true passion. I thought I was dedicated to chemistry and science and he managed to enhance that by orders of magnitude. It was the absolute astounding universe that wowed him and he shared that wonder with anyone that would sit back and listen. Even to those who wouldn’t listen.

He taught me to count in binary and that you could count to 1023 on my hands. His web site on the Tech chemistry site has how to count that way. A couple of years after I graduated I found it and e-mailed him asking why he was flicking everybody off when he got to 4. It was a rhetorical question. When I was a senior and thinking of graduate school I had asked him for a letter of recommendation and he agreed. A couple of days later he hunted me down in the lab and asked how on earth could he write a letter of recommendation when I failed his second semester physical chemistry class. I explained to him that I may have failed but I learned the more than I thought possible and that I failed his class is exactly why I thought he was perfect for writing a letter of recommendation. He thought about it and agreed… to the challenge.

I remember the arguments we had in the hallways and in his office about chemistry and nature. We were in disagreement about research. He was pure and I was applied. He taught me that the best part of science was the question, why? It is the why that we get to work on these great things from teflon to chemotherapy to plasma tvs and everything else.

It was shortly after the Rock ‘n Roll Half that I found out that Paul had passed. It hit me pretty hard. Perhaps it was interconnected web that is blood cancer or cancer itself. We all lived with the joking threat that the old chemistry hall was going to give us cancer but it was a joke. I any case, I am here talking about him. But I could never really do that subject real justice. In April he had lost his battle with leukemia after 2 years of fighting. I don’t have much more about the details and I don’t want to intrude on his family to find out. I am sure he fought it as hard as he could with more tenacity than I could muster.

I learned in the past couple of months that there was so much more to his life like writing, architecture and more why. I wish I had gotten a chance to stay connected over the past 10 years but he was never really far from my thoughts. This is for Paul and for the rest of us and we will fight.

Progressive Portraits


6 Responses

  1. I am just stumbling over this post because Paul’s widow, my mother, accidentally deleted the link to Paul’s, my dad’s blog. While looking for it again she found this post. I can possibly tell you the joy and sadness I experienced as I read this entry and subsequent entries. If this blog is being monitored now I would love to find out more about Rachel’s daddy.


  2. Paul Field was alsoyour father. Reading your post about him was very bitter sweet. It allowed me an insight into to the 50 years he was a professor, an aspect of his life that I knew very little about. I agree with the comment my sister Sylvia left earlier today. I would.l9ve to hearead more.


  3. That should have said, Paul Field was also my fathet.


  4. AWESOME! I agree!


  5. Jewell Field. He was my life time mate. He was truly
    an extraordinary man.


  6. Paul Field had many concerns about the awkward directions chemical education and research were taking. In retrospect he was prescient.
    A colleague of his, George Sanzone, was equally perceptive.
    The future is indeed a foreign country- they do things differently there- and not always for the better.


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