Mount Vernon News
  • Gordon Johnson

  • February 23, 2011

GAMBIER — Gordon Johnson, a member of the College Kenyon’s chemistry faculty from 1962 until his retirement in 1996, died Monday, Feb. 21, 2011, following a long illness. He was 78.

A native of Newark, Gordon graduated from Newark High School in 1950 and four years later earned a B.S., magna cum laude, at Ohio University, where he won high honors in chemistry and a Phi Beta Kappa key. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry, along with membership in Phi Lambda Upsilon and Sigma Xi, at the University of Illinois in 1958, after which he became an assistant professor at Duke University. He spent the summers of 1960 and 1961 as a participant in research conducted by the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Gordon, who came to Kenyon in 1962 as an assistant professor of chemistry, won tenure and promotion to associate professor in 1965 and promotion to full professor in 1969. In addition to the department’s introductory course, he taught a variety of courses in analytical, inorganic and physical chemistry. His interest in the problems of world energy supply led him to develop a popular course titled “Energy, Science, and Society.”

Known for his rapport with students, Gordon was an avid participant in research with Summer Science Scholars. His own research, which he pursued with funding from the F. Gardner Cottrell Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation, involved reactions catalyzed by metal-ion compounds.

Elizabeth Drotleff ’91, now a senior competitive intelligence analyst at Chemical Abstracts in Columbus, remembers Gordon as a “consummate researcher and teacher.” As both her faculty advisor and Summer Science mentor, Elizabeth says, Gordon was “always so supportive and enthusiastic about my aspirations in chemistry. When our summer research took an unexpected turn, he allowed me to move away from our original goal and explore something new; we ended up investigating something neither of us had expected to discover. He truly loved chemistry, and he truly loved teaching.”

Gordon’s first sabbatical in 1966-70 was spent at Iowa State University where he studied with Dr. Robert Angelici. He directed the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s Oak Ridge Semester during a 1975-76 sabbatical and, while in Tennessee, also conducted research for the U.S. Bureau of Mines. A 1983-84 sabbatical took him to Ohio State University, where his research focus was synthetic heme protein molecules.

An active participant in the governance of the chemistry department, the natural sciences division, and the faculty, Gordon was his department’s chairman three times. During the 1995-96, he served as the first chairman of the faculty’s then newly formed Tenure and Promotion Committee. At his retirement from the faculty in 1996, Gordon was awarded emeritus status and an honorary doctor of science degree.

Although their tenures overlapped only briefly, Associate Professor of Chemistry Scott Cummings found that “Gordon was a gifted chemist, powerful educator, and compassionate colleague. During my first year of teaching at Kenyon, I was immediately struck by the deep respect Gordon had earned from students. They valued his rigor and enthusiasm, and I am certain that his many lessons — about chemistry, science, and life — have stayed with generations of alumni who work in laboratories and hospitals.

“A few years after he retired, we had to pack up much of the old chemistry building for our move into Tomsich Hall. It was then that I realized just how prolific his research had been. There were boxes and boxes of inorganic compounds synthesized in his lab, and shelves of student theses on a range of inorganic topics. Working with Gordon, even for only a short time, was an honor.”

Gordon was a member of the Faith Lutheran Church, where he was the past president of council and served in various capacities on the council. He was also a Sunday school teacher for many years and an avid fisherman.

Gordon is survived by his wife of 56 years, Laurel Johnson; their daughters, Cheryl A. (Dan Werner) Johnson, a 1981 graduate of Kenyon, and Cynthia (John) Calley; four grandchildren, Alisha Monypenny, Gabriel Lozano Johnson, Helen Calley and Amelia Calley; and a brother, Melvin Johnson.

A memorial service will be held at a later date and will be announced in the Mount Vernon News. The Dilley-Lasater Funeral Home in Mount Vernon is handling the funeral arrangements for the Gordon Johnson family.

Gordon’s family suggests that those who wish to make memorial gifts direct them to Faith Lutheran Church, 170 Mansfield Ave., Mount Vernon, OH 43050; or Heartland Hospice Memorial Fund, 6500 Busch Blvd., Columbus, OH 43229.

To express a condolence or share a memory with the Johnson family, please visit

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