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Monday, October 18, 2021

Longtime UCD chemistry professor dies at 95

Emeritus Professor Raymond Keefer, a long time faculty member at UC Davis, died on Feb. 6 from a brief illness. He was 95 years old.

Keefer came to Davis in 1936 as the first graduate student in the chemistry department, when teaching and research were just beginning to expand. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1940.

In 1962 Keefer was appointed chair of the chemistry department, which saw a large amount of expansion and growth in faculty members and undergraduate students during his 12-year tenure. The department also moved from Young Hall to its current location, as well as expanding into the chemistry annex.

“The reason he was chair for so many years was because he was a great administrator,said Edwin Friedrich, a UC Davis emeritus professor of chemistry.He ran things by consensus. Everyone liked him and he was a great teacher.

Friedrich remembers that faculty meetings were nonexistent during Keefer’s time as chair. Instead they had two coffee breaks each day in which they sat down to discuss things involving the department.

“It was successful because he did a great job at organizing other people,Friedrich said. “He had a calm manner and gained the respect of others.

His career at Davis was interrupted in 1942 when he joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. He went to radar school where he learned to operate and work on radars during the war. He served on the U.S.S. Alaska for a time to protect carriers from Japanese planes. After the war he remained in the naval reserve for 30 years, eventually retiring as a captain.

Once the war was over, he returned to Davis in 1945 to resume teaching as an assistant professor, eventually reaching the position of professor in chemistry as well as chemist in the experiment station in 1956.

Involved with the freshman chemistry program for several generations, Keefer was an influence in the expansion of the College of Letters and Science. He helped develop the undergraduate major of chemistry by working out breadth requirements in committee meetings.

He also taught freshman chemistry in coordination with Thomas Allen, another emeritus professor of chemistry, during most of his years at UC Davis. Keefer got involved with several editions of chemistry lab books he used with his students.

“We would cooperate on how [freshman chemistry] would run and we would exchange ideas,Allen said. “He was an easy person to get along with.

Keefer worked closely with Lawrence Andrews, a professor of chemistry and longtime dean of the College of Letters and Science, researching basic science and studying a loose compound called a molecular complex. It creates a weak bond between two different molecules that stick together when they get near each other. They published a book together called Molecular Complexes in Organic Chemistry in 1964.

In the same year they were both named faculty research lecturer by the Academic Senate, an honorary title given to those who have made special contributions in research.

“[The title] had never been shared before,Allen said. “That was a big thing.

Keefer was also chair to the Committee of Academic Personnel (CAP) for a time, which involved making recommendations to the Chief Campus Officer regarding appointments, promotions and merit increases of other faculty members.

“He was a person who was just a lot of fun to be around, had a great sense of humor,Allen said. “He took his duties and teaching very seriously though.

Keefer retired in 1983 but stayed on campus to work in the lab. In later years he didn’t work as much, but instead focused on spending time with his family by going to their cabin in the Sierras, hiking or traveling the world with his wife, Hilda. The couple of 66 years has two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The date of the memorial service has yet to be announced. The Keefer family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the UC Davis department of chemistry.

“We are all indebted to him and people like him that helped to create the campus and its traditions that are still helping students to this day,Allen said.

CORY BULLIS can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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