Who, May I Ask, is Sheldon Shore?

Doc, Doug Denton (Ph.D., 1973) and the author, April 2010

Late in 2017 I received word that the Sheldon Shore Lecture would be held again at Ohio State after a 2 year hiatus.  I made reservations at a nearby hotel for April and cashed in some travel miles for the Atlanta to Columbus trip.

Several weeks before the scheduled lecture the speaker said she could not make it and the lecture was rescheduled  with the same speaker (huh?) for September 21.  Since we had already made plans to meet up with some friends in Columbus the trip continued as planned and we had a wonderful reunion with a couple we had not seen since 1991.

A visit to the room where the lecture was to have taken place showed no evidence that a lecture was to be scheduled.  No notices, no apologies, nothing.

So, who is Sheldon Shore and what is so special about him that he has (or maybe had) a lecture series named in his honor?  Sheldon Shore (a.k.a., “Doc”) was my graduate research advisor at the Ohio State University, Columbus campus.  He was a professor of chemistry there from 1957 until his death in 2014, providing 57 years of service.

His scientific accomplishments were many and are described elsewhere.  In this article I want to talk a bit about his legacy, past, present and future.

I worked with Doc from about 1967 until I finished up in September 1970.  He was as complex an individual as I have ever met.  

Brilliant, but absent-minded. A raconteur without peer. 

He held grants from the National Science Foundation (among others) for more than 50 years, an unbelievable accomplishment.

Clever with women, but very likely never had a date.  

One day robust, the next a hypochondriac.  

In his first year as professor while he was lining up research space he took piano lessons and became pretty good at it.  He bought a piano and had to hire a crane to get it into his apartment through a balcony window.  He loved the music of  J.S. Bach.

Shore was an excellent and careful pilot, obtaining an instrument rating and flying to many scientific meetings.  Riding with him in his Nash Rambler, however, was an adventure, especially in the winter months.

He and I worked well together although there was some friction between us as my research neared its conclusion.   There were deadlines and I need to get some writing done.  I would make an appointment, usually  late in the evening.  When I would enter his office he would often look very haggard; we would talk about various parts of the manuscript, then he would rub his eyes and say that he could not continue and we would go for coffee at the local Burger Boy.  Usually that would be the end and another appointment would be necessary.

We eventually finished my thesis and parted amicably.  I would not see Doc again for about 35 years.

In 2004  I was at a publisher’s junket in Chicago and talked to a fellow professor I knew slightly from the University of Kentucky.  He asked about Doc and if  Ohio State was going to honor him with a research symposium or lecture of some type.  We both agreed that it was about time and I made inquiry about it to the alumni office and to some Ohio State chemistry department administrators I knew.

Sometime in 2005 I received an email  inviting me to give a presentation at a symposium to be held over 2 days (including a dinner) in honor of his 75th birthday.   

In 2007 the first Sheldon Shore lecture was given.  It was an annual event until 2015.  Sometimes a nice dinner would be included either at the Blackwell or the Ohio State Union.  Other times a bunch of us would go to a local restaurant as the guest of the chemistry department.  

Doc lived to do science.  It was inevitable that as his number of grad students and post docs diminished he was asked to give up research space, agreeing eventually to accept emeritus status in return for a cash sum which he donated  in honor of his parents to the new chemistry and chemical engineering building (CBEC) fund.

Professor Shore had much in common late in his life with the great college football coaches Paul Bryant and Joe Paterno.  None of the three lasted long after they quit work.  Doc was nearly 85  in late March, 2014, with a replacement heart valve, but chose to undergo several procedures  at one time which would require only a single sedation.  Nonetheless, he slipped into a coma and died several days later.  

In 2016 it was announced that the Shore lecture would be given every 2 years starting in 2018.

Even in its early years the lecture was never well publicized outside the university community.  Funding was a continual problem, even after a rather generous gift from a foundation grant.

The lecture series is not sustainable without more support from alumni, administration and friends.  What is the purpose of having such a lecture?  We want to honor Doc but we also should be thinking about recognizing quality research in inorganic chemistry and materials science.  Ohio State has long done great work in those areas and people should know about it.

If we continue, the lectures should be in late April or early May, near his birth date and not scheduled for a Friday before a home football game.  Out-of-staters should be able to  get a room at the Blackwell and walk to the CBEC for the lecture.

Doc left behind voluminous sketches, notes and drawings.  Someone in the know should sort and archive these.  Perhaps some of the artwork could be displayed on the walls of CBEC.  His personal papers might become the basis of a monograph describing his years of service to Ohio State.

Let’s have a 90th birthday bash for Doc in May, 2020.

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