Robert (Bob) LeRoy (’61) (1943-2018)

Robert James LeRoy, one of Canada’s foremost theoretical chemists and a North Toronto grad, passed away August 10, 2018, at the age of 74.

The second of four brothers, all of whom attended NTCI between 1955 and 1967, Bob was a keen and talented student. His brother John (’67) recalled:

“I remember in his final year of high school… he wrote exams in three different types of math. In two of them he received a perfect mark of 100%, while in the other he received a little less. He knew where he had made a careless error and he lamented about it for weeks after. He knew he should have been perfect in all three.”

After graduating from NT, Bob attended the University of Toronto, earning his B.Sc. in Math and Chemistry in 1965 and his M.Sc in Chemistry in 1967. He left Canada to pursue doctoral work in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, where he received his Ph.D. in 1971. He returned to U of T for a year of post-doctoral work before becoming an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo. He spent the rest of his academic career at the U of W and at the time of his passing was a Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean of Science for Computing.

His work focused on the behaviour of molecules and atoms, particularly the forces occurring among them. He became a giant in this highly specialized field, starting with his doctoral work focusing on non-covalent bonds. When asked to explain the complexities of his profession to laypeople he was known to say: “I study the sex life of molecules.”

Brilliant and energetic, Bob possessed an endless enthusiasm for new experiences and ideas. He inspired and mentored thousands of young scientists. One page of the chemistry textbook currently in use in Ontario high schools is devoted to the LeRoy radius, a technique for mathematically defining the radius of a small molecule, which is key to understanding the forces at work both inside and outside of that boundary. John Polanyi, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry, remembers: “Robert, whom I came to know as a student and later as a fellow scientist, exhibited indomitable courage and infectious joy in his creative life.” His page on the University of Waterloo website lists 114 research publications in addition to nine scholarships and awards. (http://leroy.uwaterloo.ca/cv.html).

It is interesting to note that Bob was not the only one in his family to follow a career in science. His father, D.J. LeRoy, was a research scientist at the National Research Council, and later the head of Chemistry at the University of Toronto (where he hired John Polanyi). His older brother Rod, ’60, pursued doctoral and post-doctoral work in supersonic molecular beams, and later became the CEO of one of the Noranda companies. Niece Jennifer is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford, working on materials development in single molecule power generation. Quite the family business!
To view Bob’s full obituary in the Globe & Mail, point your browser to: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-chemist-robert-j-leroy-studied-the-sexlife-of-molecules/

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