Remembering the Career of Long-Time Professor of Chemistry Frank Mallory

November 20, 2017

The below letter was sent by President Kim Cassidy on Nov. 16, 2017.

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Emeritus Faculty,  

Last week I wrote with the sad news that Frank Mallory, W. Alton Jones Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, passed away on Tuesday, November 7. Frank was one of the first faculty members I met when I arrived at Bryn Mawr in 1993. He was on a panel at the orientation for new faculty, and I vividly remember the impression he made—I was struck by his incredibly sharp mind, his ultimate professionalism, his insistence on the highest standard of excellence for his students and his passion for his scholarship. Then, as now, I think of how truly lucky Bryn Mawr was to have Frank as a member of the faculty. I write now to share more about his distinguished career and to offer recollections from his colleagues and friends. 

Professor Mallory received his BS summa cum laude from Yale University 1954 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was a National Science Foundation pre-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, where he received his Ph.D. in 1958. Frank came to Bryn Mawr as Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1957 and became Associate Professor in 1963 and Professor in 1969. In 1985, Frank was named W. Alton Jones Professor of Chemistry, a position he held until his retirement in 2011. He was a visiting professor at the State University of New York at Albany, Yale University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania. 

frank mallory

During his 54-year tenure at the College, Frank served as chair of his department for 10 years and as President Emeritus Pat McPherson’s first Academic Deputy to the President, a position now known as Provost. He was a member of the Committee on Appointments and its chair in the final year of his term, a member of the Curriculum Committee for two terms and a member of countless other councils and committees. It is believed that Frank was the longest-serving member of the faculty in the history of Bryn Mawr.  

An organic chemist, Frank was a prolific scholar, publishing 89 articles and book chapters, 88 abstracts of research talks, and 93 research talks without abstracts. He was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow 1963-64 and Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow 1964-68. Many of Frank’s projects were in collaboration with his colleague and wife, Sally Mallory, including three that were still underway in 2015. Marion Reilly Professor Emeritus of Physics Peter Beckmann writes of Frank, “[He] was a mentor, a research colleague, a friend, and an academic soulmate to so many for over 50 years….We came from opposite ends of an academic spectrum and enjoyed teaching each other for hours on end….Frank, Sally, and I published 14 papers together between 1985 and 2017.” Associate Provost and Professor of Chemistry Bill Malachowski offers this summary of Frank’s impact on the Chemistry Department and Bryn Mawr: “Frank was an impressive and dedicated scholar, passionately devoted to maintaining the remarkable legacy of the Bryn Mawr College Chemistry Department. His 54 years of service to the College is a testament to his amazing commitment to his educational and scholarly work; it will never be matched.”

In 2014, Frank was elected a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in recognition of his significant contributions to the field. His research broke ground in three distinct areas of organic chemistry: photochemistry, NMR spectroscopy, and the structures and synthesis of solid-state materials. Frank was best known for the “Mallory reaction,” which he discovered serendipitously when he was a graduate student. The Mallory reaction became a staple of organic chemistry, still used by chemists to synthesize new compounds from pharmaceuticals to new nanomaterials. Frank’s work to understand the structural and electronic factors which influence the coupling of atomic spins through space also continues to be cited, nearly three decades after its first publication. 

Frank's indefatigable enthusiasm for chemistry was visible not only in his teaching and research, but in his service to the chemical community.  His work, like his research, served the profession in many dimensions. He was the acting editor for both Tetrahedron and Tetrahedron Letters in the 1970s, on the editorial advisory board for Journal of Organic Chemistry ,and beginning in 1999 on the founding editorial advisory board for Organic Letters for which he served until recently. Nationally, he served on the executive board for the American Chemical Society’s Division of Organic Chemistry, while locally he chaired the Philadelphia Organic Chemists' Club.

Frank taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, offering courses focused on organic chemistry, including physical organic chemistry. He supervised 21 doctoral dissertations, 19 master’s theses and more than 150 undergraduate research students during the summer and academic year. Professor of Chemistry Susan White shares this memory of Frank’s interactions with graduate students, “At one point during an M.A. oral exam, when it was evident that the student had done very well, [Frank] stood up, smiled, and said ‘Let’s declare victory now.’ And so we all congratulated the candidate.” Pat McPherson says of her colleague, “Frank was the kind of exceptional faculty member that enabled a liberal arts college to give as good or better an education to students as could the best research university. His graduate students too received the sort of close professional attention that all graduate students hope for and he maintained a relationship with his students, continuing to provide assistance and support.” In 1992 the College honored Frank with the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Fellow Park Science faculty W. Alton Jones Professor of Chemistry Sharon Burgmayer, Professor of Biology Karen Greif, and Professor of Mathematics Paul Melvin shared Frank’s love of chamber music, joining him as original members of the Bryn Mawr Chamber Music Society, founded in 1983. Frank participated in numerous concerts as a clarinetist and bass clarinetist and also prepared masterful transcriptions of chamber works for the group. His final performance at Bryn Mawr was in November 2012. Karen Greif recalls, “In addition to Frank's brilliant performances of chamber music, he was a clever and waggish arranger of ‘musical entertainments’ for parties at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference in Vermont for many summers….As a regular member of these groups, the biggest challenge was to avoid laughing while performing.” Sharon Burgmayer describes Frank’s impact on her as a mentor: “I learned as much from Frank about how to chair the department as how to create a great musical performance.”

Michelle Francl, Professor and Chair of Chemistry speaks fondly of her friend, “Frank cared deeply not just about the College, its students and the chemistry department, but about his colleagues. During my first year on the faculty, my husband was taken seriously ill. In the chaos of trying to arrange care for him far from where we lived, Frank and Sally appeared at the hospital and made sure I was never left alone. They took me to their home after my husband died to wait for far-flung family to arrive.” 

Frank is survived by his wife, Sally; his three children, Mary Mallory Wrenn (Robert), Paul Mallory (Kelly), Michele Mallory Penner (Terry); eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Frank was predeceased by his son Philip Mallory. There will be a memorial service at the College at a later date.

Sincerely yours,
Kim Cassidy

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