Raymond Grover Wolfe Jr.
June 1, 1920 - December 14, 2015
Raymond G. Wolfe, professor emeritus in chemistry at the University of Oregon, passed away December 14, 2015 of congestive heart failure. He was a father, a teacher, a scientist, and a social activist who worked throughout his life to make the world a better place.
Ray grew up in Oakland, California. He was an industrious child, working during his school years as a newspaper boy and as a janitor’s assistant. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ray joined the U.S. Navy and flew with a seaplane squadron searching the Formosa Straits for enemy ships.
During the war, Ray met his future bride, Barbara Knuth, through his roommate’s girlfriend. They corresponded, and were married January 25, 1946. Ray and Barbara had three children, Gordon, Katherine, and Donald.
In 1956, Ray was hired as a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Ray taught and researched 'malic dehydrogenase,' an enzyme pivotal for getting energy from food. Ray mentored numerous graduate students, and made lasting friendships with his professional peers across the globe. During his sabbatical years, Ray took the family to Vienna, Austria from 1963 to 1964, went to Bristol, England, with Barbara in 1970, and to Cornell University in 1978.
Ray was committed to working for the public interest. He joined citizens groups, most notably one opposing a proposed nuclear plant near Eugene. After he stopped teaching in 1990, Ray produced a public affairs program, “In the Public Interest,” at the local access cable station. He generated scores of programs on environmental and political subjects. In a variety of areas, Ray pitched in simply because he could. Early in his retirement he monitored elder care facilities for compliance with regulations. He was a frequent blood donor, and a dependable volunteer for local political campaigns.
Ray was a dedicated nonconformist, favoring crew cuts and bow ties. He rode a bicycle to work throughout his teaching career, declared himself a “peasant,” and disdained fashion or social conventions.
At home, Ray was entertaining and multifaceted. He liked music and would sing harmony, especially on family vacation road trips. He could whistle much higher notes than most people, and would often whistle along with the stereo. He invented and played the “hosaphone,” an instrument strikingly similar to a garden hose. His favorite tune for these performances was “Red Sails in the Sunset.” In retirement, he developed new interests, including winemaking and baking homemade apple pies, putting his laboratory skills to use at home. At family dinners, Ray presided over lively discussions on a wide range of topics.
Ray Wolfe was a compassionate human who devoted himself to making the world a better place. He worked wholeheartedly for the good of his community and his family. He quietly did his part, with humility and a generous spirit. He rarely complained, even when his failing health caused him pain or frustrated his movement. He was stoic, yet would surprise his family and caregivers with unexpected wisecracks when they weren’t even sure that he had been listening.
Ray will be missed by his children and grandchildren who have enjoyed his love and support, and by his community. We will cherish the memories and the good works he has left with us.