In Memoriam

William A. “Bill” Hoffman

In Memoriam: William A. “Bill” Hoffman

Relentlessly curious. John Hoffman nailed it when he used those words to describe his father, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry William A. “Bill” Hoffman, in a champagne toast at a memorial reception for Bill in May. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, Hoffman, who died at on April 26 at age 82, was the genuine article. His interests were broad, compelling, and infectious. So was his influence on so many who crossed his path during his 51-year association with Denison.

Alumna Jill Sterrett ’82 came under that influence when she took chemistry courses with Hoffman that helped ignite a career in art conservation. “My chemistry prowess peaked early,” she said, “but Bill never gave up on me, or my dream of restoring art.” Sterrett is now director of collections and conservation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Hoffman’s longtime friend John Kessler, professor emeritus of German, describes as a “rare privilege” his meetings with Hoffman to pursue their shared passion for reading challenging literature – in German. “He was a committed lifelong learner,” John said. “For twenty years I anticipated, treasured, and learned from our weekly meetings.”

Hoffman was a consummate scientist. “Bill found chemistry fascinating, especially analytical chemistry,” said Tom Evans, also emeritus in chemistry. “He used the word ‘curious’ a lot. He was drawn to research topics such as the effect of acid rain on forests, a subject he pursued while on sabbatical at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and nuclear waste issues, which he investigated at Hanford National Laboratory.” But closest to Hoffman’s heart were the classroom and lab at Denison, where he was well known for his attention to students and for his unflagging interest in their interests. “As a teacher,” Sterrett commented, “he was someone to channel over and over again in the not-so-simple pursuit of doing what you love well.”

Evans reflected further on Hoffman’s thirty-five-year tenure in Denison’s chemistry department, including a number of years as chairman. “Bill was always looking for ways he could support his colleagues,” he said. “He was a valued mentor, especially for other analytical chemists at Denison. He wanted the department and the university to work smoothly, and he understood the importance of individuals in that process.” During the 1970s Hoffman expanded his contributions to the college by serving for four years as dean of admissions and financial aid.

Hoffman retired in 1995, but remained a welcome presence on campus, whether at the lunch table in Slayter, on the handball court, at arts events and lectures, or visiting with alumni during Reunion Weekend. He was equally a citizen of Kendal (his retirement community), and of Granville itself, taking part energetically in community initiatives.

Most important, Hoffman would have said, was the fact that he shared his life with Flo Hoffman, his cherished wife and enduring friend. The two were inseparable for nearly sixty years of marriage. Their close-knit family includes five children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Witty, kind, keenly intelligent — and yes, always curious — Bill Hoffman is deeply missed.

Published July 2011