June 03, 2022

In Remembrance: William H. Brown, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry

Bill Brown, a professor emeritus of chemistry who took great joy in teaching, writing textbooks, and inspiring students to become interested in chemistry, passed away on Jan. 16, in Beloit.
  • William H. Brown
    Beloit College Archives

Brown joined Beloit’s faculty in 1964. Over a 35-year tenure, he earned a reputation as a kind and patient mentor who fostered students’ understanding of chemistry, especially organic chemistry. For many, he helped uncover a curiosity about the subject they didn’t realize they had.

In an alumni Facebook group post, one former student wrote, “I loved Professor Brown. I found an interest in chemistry that had previously been lacking. ‘Everything is made of chemicals’ is what I tell my kids. He changed my way of seeing.”

Brown was twice named Beloit’s Teacher-of-the-Year, and his prolific authorship of organic chemistry textbooks extended his teaching expertise to students around the world. His textbooks became widely used classics and included three titles that resulted in 40 new editions and translations into Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.

Bill Brown Credit: Amanda ResebergIn 2015, at age 82, he had two new editions in the works and explained in an interview with Beloit College Magazine that he never set out to write textbooks. He said a publishing company sales rep asked what he thought of the book he was teaching with at the time. He shared some notes for improvements, which turned into an outline, then his first textbook. He continued co-authoring and editing textbooks into his mid-80s.

In his obituary, the family said that he could have boasted about the recognition he received for his textbooks, “but he was always more likely to talk about the joy of teaching or helping students with a particularly challenging task in the laboratory.”

Brown attended St. Lawrence University on a scholarship, earned his master’s degree at Harvard University, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Simonton, four children, including Dave Brown’91, and eight grandchildren.


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