Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | June 16, 2021

Remembering My Father

(5 Minute Read. 16Jun2021)

Dad and Me

What renowned chemist said this?

“I have been working in the field of natural products for over forty years now. As we unravel the structures of complex natural products, and illuminate their fascinating chemistry, I am impressed over and over with the marvelous design and handiwork of the Creator. In a certain real sense, as I explore and discover new truth about the part of the universe in which I work, I believe that I am thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”

These are certainly not words one often hears from a scientist in this day of evolutionary indoctrination. Yet this is a direct quote from an award-winning science researcher, professor, and university administrator.

These are the words of my father, S. William Pelletier (1924-2004). This quotation appears in his entry in the 59th edition of Who’s Who in America. They reflect his reasoned faith in the Creator of heaven and earth.

The glory of sons is their fathers. (Proverbs 17:6)
This son, the BibleScienceGuy, glories in his father. I admired and looked up to my father my whole life. This year, as Father’s Day is this coming Sunday, I want to honor my late father by sharing some of my memories of him.

Dad and Me
“Higher, Daddy, higher!”

Early Life

Dad grew up in Kankakee, IL, about an hour south of Chicago. He was the oldest of three children with a sister Wanda and a brother David.

One story he told me of his elementary school days was how he got his arms stuck in the back of his schoolroom desk chair in the second grade. Neither he nor the teacher could free his arms. Eventually the janitor had to come and cut the slats on the desk chair with a saw to release my father. Years later Dad revisited the school and found that desk chair with the sawed-off slats still in the building.

Many Saturdays his father would waken him before daybreak to go fishing. Dad said he never understood the appeal of spending all day with a fishing pole hoping for a bite. He considered it a waste of the day. On the walk home, his father often took a short cut using the train trestle over the Kankakee River. There were no side rails, and you had to step from railroad tie to railroad tie. Between the ties you could see the river far below. Halfway across was a step-aside place in case a train came. One time with a train coming, his father picked him up and ran to the step-aside place. Dad said crossing the railroad bridge always terrified him as a little boy, but his father thought nothing of it and pooh-poohed his fears.

In high school, Dad was the sound engineer for school productions and events and hence had access to the stage. Once before a magician’s performance, Dad spread exploding powder around the stage, having prepared the crystals in the high school chemistry lab. The magician kept stepping on it and causing little firecracker-type pops and flashes under his feet. Not knowing what was going on, he played along with the laughing audience as if it were part of his act.

Dad’s college years were interrupted by World War II. He served in the Navy as a radio operator in the Pacific.

Following the war, Dad completed his B.S. degree summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois in 1947. He received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cornell University in 1950 with a dissertation on alkaloids.

At both the University of Illinois and Cornell University, Dad was the president of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapter. He gave talks on Christian evidences and discipleship and how to have Christian faith in a university setting.

Professional Life

From 1951 to 1962 Dad was a member of the organic chemistry research staff at the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. Organic chemistry is the study of organic compounds — their properties, reactions, and synthesis. Organic compounds are chemical compounds that contain carbon-hydrogen bonds, and they are the building blocks of all living things. Proteins, carbohydrates, lipids (fats), sugars, alcohols, and nucleic acids are all organic compounds.

Dr. S. William Pelletier
Professor of Chemistry
University of Georgia

In 1962 Dad became the head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Georgia.
As department head from 1962 to 1969, Dad increased the chemistry faculty from 14 to 30, the yearly number of chemistry graduate students from 30 to 102, and the number of departmental research papers published per year from 15 to 100. Under his leadership the department’s external grant support increased by twenty fold.

David M. Hercules was a chemistry professor who moved from MIT to the University of Georgia in 1969. In a 2002 interview on his career, Professor Hercules said this about my father’s leadership of the chemistry department at the University of Georgia:
“By the time I arrived, the chemistry department at Georgia was well on its way to becoming a very good chemistry department. It had been built up by Bill Pelletier. He had come to Georgia in the late 1950s, or maybe early 1960s, from Rockefeller. He was a natural products chemist and a very dedicated guy who really put the department on the map. . . . Bill had brought in a lot of people, most of whom were really quite good, and he was successful with them. . . . We were cohesive because the whole climate at Georgia was that we were going to build the best department that we could.”
(David M. Hercules, interview by David C. Brock and Arthur Daemmrich at Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, New Orleans, Louisiana, 20 March 2002, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Oral History Transcript # 0241, p.26.)

In 1969 Dad was appointed Provost of the University of Georgia, the chief academic officer of the university, where he served for seven years while maintaining his chemistry research. His charge was to build up the university as he had done with the chemistry department. As provost, Dad developed higher standards for faculty appointments and promotion, strengthened guidelines for teaching excellence, and established the Office of Institutional Research. His work as Provost was significant in making the university research-oriented. In 1976 he left the office of Provost to become the Director of the Institute of Natural Products Research, a position he held until he retired in 2000.

Dad was an authority on naturally occurring chemical compounds that have potential medicinal uses. He used to collect plants that he thought might yield medicinal compounds. His research involved discovering information about chemical properties of plants that could be used in medicine.

Dad maintained his research interest in alkaloids throughout his career. Alkaloids are a class of organic compounds of plant origin which contain at least one nitrogen atom. They generally have definite physiological action on humans. Alkaloids include many drugs (e.g., morphine, quinine, ephedrine, caffeine, cocaine, nicotine) and poisons (e.g., strychnine, atropine, tubocurarine, hemlock). Almost all alkaloids have a bitter taste.

Dad was an authority on the isolation, stereochemistry (study of the three‐dimensional structure of molecules), structure elucidation, and synthesis of alkaloids. He initiated and edited a widely-used 15-volume series on the chemistry of alkaloids: Alkaloids: Chemical and Biological Perspectives. He published over 360 research papers during his career.

Dad served a term as president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (2001-2002). Pharmacognosy involves the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical, and biological properties of drugs of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources, usually plants. In 1991 Dad received the American Society of Pharmacognosy’s top research award for his lifetime of work on alkaloids.

Dad helped form the Northeast Georgia Section of the American Chemical Society and served as its first chairman in 1968. In 1971 he won the ACS Herty Medal which recognizes outstanding chemists in the southeastern U.S. In 1972 he received the Southern Chemist Award from the Memphis ACS section for distinguished achievements in chemistry.

Dad was an Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He lectured at universities and institutes throughout America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in England.

Family Life

Dad was faithful in bringing up his six children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). He taught and catechized us children in Scripture from as far back as I can remember. Some of my very earliest memories are evening Bible times in which we were quizzed on the Bible passage Dad had read. And then he worked with us on memorizing and reviewing Bible verses. These evening Bible times continued till I left home for graduate school. Dad impressed on all of us children the truth and authority of the Bible.

Dad’s inscription in my Bible
(Click to enlarge)

For my 8th birthday, my parents gave me my first complete Bible. Over the years I have often remembered these words which my father inscribed inside the front cover:
“Endeavor to read a portion of God’s Word daily. As the Psalmist says, God’s Word will be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.
(Psalm 119:105). Remember, this Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.”

Dad invested a lot of time in memorizing Scripture himself. In addition, he systematically reviewed his own memory verses in a two-week cycle. Every day he spent about half an hour reviewing the verses scheduled for that day. I still have the fat stack of index cards he made to use for review.

Another of my very early memories is a game that we played at night called Chase Me in the Dark. I was about four, and my younger brother and I would beg Dad to chase us. Dad would eventually agree over my mother’s mild protests. He would turn off the lights, get down on all fours, and chase us around the furniture in the living and dining rooms. He would burst around the dining room table roaring like a lion. We would scream and run, and it would scare us silly. But then we would beg and beg him, “Do it again.” My mother felt this was not good preparation for bed which followed soon afterward.

Dad and Me
Discussing issues of the day . . . I can’t
remember why I stuck out my tongue.

Even after I was married, on visits home I would enjoy long walks with Dad. We liked to discuss Biblical subjects and commiserate with each other about the state of political affairs. I also used these walks to get his insight, counsel, and advice on various matters.

Dad was a man of clean speech, clean habits, and clean conduct. He was a man of integrity with a clear faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was dignified and reserved, but kind and encouraging with friends. He pursued excellence as a standard for himself and expected it of others. I can’t count the number of times I heard him say, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” He inspired my own drive for excellence.

Dad and Mom were married for 50 years before she died in 2000. They had six children of whom I was the eldest. Those six children have so far produced 22 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren for a current total of 53 descendants from Dad and Mom.

Evangelist Billy Graham said,
“A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”
This son gives thanks to Almighty God for his good father.

Questions to Ponder

1. How has God blessed you through your father?
2. How can you instill a love and respect for Scripture in your children or in those you mentor?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday June 16, 2021 A.D.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11)

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  1. A most interesting tribute to your father. Once again you have fulfilled your father’s motto, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

    Well done my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a wonderful comment! Your encouragement and support is very valuable to me, Clif. I appreciate you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, your Dad was an amazing and brilliant man. God sure blessed him with a brilliant mind and love for Him.
    I’m sure your Mom was a great influence too.
    Happy Father’s Day to you and blessings with all your wonderful memories of your special Dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article and memories, brother Bill. Dad’s most valuable contribution to my life was to give me an appreciation for the authority of Scripture over everything. God’s Word is more true than anything I might temporarily feel.

    Liked by 1 person

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