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In memoriam: Alumnus Malcolm MacKenzie Renfrew

Alumnus Malcolm MacKenzie Renfrew died on Saturday, October 12, 2013, his 103rd birthday, in Moscow, Idaho. He earned his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1938. In 1977, he received an Outstanding Achievement Award—the university’s highest alumni honor.

Renfrew was born, October 12, 1910, in Spokane, Washington. He grew up in Colfax, Washington, and Potlatch, Idaho. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Idaho. While at the University of Idaho, he met and married Carol Campbell. In 1938, they moved to New Jersey, where he was employed by DuPont in research on new plastics. He was involved in the development of Teflon and made its first public presentation at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 1946. He later became director of chemical research and development for General Mills, Inc. in Minneapolis and for Spencer Kellogg and Sons in Buffalo, New York.

In 1959, the Renfrews returned to Moscow where Malcolm headed the physical sciences department of the University of Idaho. He later chaired the chemistry department and officially retired as professor emeritus of chemistry in 1976. In semi-retirement, he served the university as patent director and executive vice president of the Idaho Research Foundation.

Renfrew was professionally active in the ACS (Fellow), holding offices in three different divisions, and representing the Washington-Idaho Border Section in the national council. During a sabbatical leave in 1967, he was a staff member of the National Science Foundation-supported Advisory Council on College Chemistry at Stanford University and for some years continued responsibilities as director of the College Chemistry Consultants Service. He also served as safety editor of the Journal of Chemical Education and for four years was a member of the National Research Council's Materials Advisory Board. Malcolm was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Society of Chemical Industry (Brit), Sigma Xi, and Phi Beta Kappa.

His many honors included awards for teaching by the ACS Northeastern Section and the Manufacturing Chemists Association, and the ACS Santa Clara Valley Section Award honored his service to the Society. Upon his retirement, the University of Idaho awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree. The ACS Chemical Health and Safety Division gave him its top award. He was co-editor of Safe Laboratories: Principles and Practices for Design and Remodeling (1990), and editor of Safety in the Chemical Laboratory, Vol. IV (1980). He was author of professional papers on plastics, chemical safety, and molecular spectroscopy. He was named to the University of Idaho Hall of Fame, the State of Idaho Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Idahoan University of Idaho Alumni Award. He and his wife Carol received the Idaho Treasures Award from the University of Idaho Retirees Association.

In 1985, to mark Renfrew's 75th birthday, the physical sciences building at the University of Idaho was named Malcolm M. Renfrew Hall. The building was rededicated in 2010 on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Malcolm and his wife Carol traveled extensively and visited all the continents except Antarctica. He was a gifted watercolorist and was a member of the Palouse Watercolor Socius, Idaho Watercolor Society, watercolor societies in Buffalo, New York and Palo Alto, California. He was also a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity and the Moscow First Presbyterian Church. He was a trombonist with the UI Vandal non-marching pep band, chemist, educator, gardener, philanthropist and dog lover. But, above all he was a people person who never met a person he did not like nor one he would not encourage to achieve goals that they did not know they had.

Malcolm was predeceased by his parents, his wife Carol in 2010, and his brother Edgar in 2010. A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church, Monday, October 28, 2013.

You can read his obituary and a story on him, which were published in the Spokesman newspaper.