William F. Little
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
William F. Little was born and grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, a small town in the western part of the state. His father had five children by his first wife and four by his second. Little, Senior, was a professor of languages and provost at Lenoir-Rhyne College until the economics of nine children forced him to go to work for a savings and loan, of which he eventually became CEO. William loved living in a small town, and he loved his early teachers. He had no chemistry classes in high school, as the school was too small, but he had physics and biology. In college he discovered chemistry. A brother, a sister, and two nephews also went into chemistry. He attended Lenoir-Rhyne College, majoring in mathematics, biology, and chemistry. He loved chemistry and wanted to stay a chemist rather than going to medical school. During the Korean Conflict, James Morehead III established what was then the Morehead Scholarships. Because graduate students could be drafted Morehead gave his first eight awards to graduate students, one of whom was Little. Little entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a student in physical chemistry, but after finishing his Master's degree, he switched to organic chemistry for his PhD, which he also received from the University of North Carolina. He paid for his own postdoc at University College London, where he was interested in aromatic nitration. While he was in London Reed University hired him to teach. After a year there, studying apocynol, he was wooed back to North Carolina. During his first year on the faculty he was persuaded to join the Research Triangle Foundation, which was attempting to establish a large park for research entities. He spent summers and chemical society meetings recruiting companies to expand into the Triangle; he ended up with an extensive network of business and banking leaders in the state and was a very successful marketer. Because there was an intermingling of University interests with those of the Park, the University gave Little a new post as Vice Chancellor of Research Administration. After several years in that position Little became chairman of the chemistry department. In that position he brought in a large number of faculty and new students; he revised the curriculum; he got a new chemistry laboratory built; he overrode the University's policy of equal pay raises and established pay for merit. After five years there, he became head of the Research, Development, and Public Service Office, helping originate a university-wide capital funds drive that exceeded its goal. Little's long career has included a number of board memberships and many awards; but this career has always remained entwined with the Research Triangle Park Foundation and its Selection Committee; with the University of North Carolina, both its administration and its chemistry department; with the leaders of North Carolina's government and business communities; with individual faculty members; and, to a much lesser extent, to the chemistry where it all began. As he is fond of saying, “whenever I was asked to do anything I would salute the quarterdeck” to serve the North Carolina he loved.
|1950||Lenoir--Rhyne College||BS||Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics|
|1952||University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill||MS||Physical Chemistry|
|1954||University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill||PhD||Organic Chemistry|
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
The Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina
Research Triangle Institute
Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, Inc.
The John Motley Morehead Foundation
|1951 to 1954||
Morehead Scholarship, University of North Carolina
Outstanding Alumnus Award, Lenoir-Rhyne College
Thomas Jefferson Award, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Doctor of Science Honorary Degree, Lenoir-Rhyne College
Order of the Golden Fleece (honorary), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Marcus E. Hobbs Distinguished Service Award, American Chemical Society, North Carolina Section
Sam Ragan Award for Contributions to the Arts in North Carolina
Faculty Service Award, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Alumni Association
Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina
Medicinal Chemistry Building at Research Triangle Institute named W. F. Little Laboratories
Last road in Research Triangle Park named Little Drive
Table of Contents
Born and raised in Hickory, North Carolina; family's involvement in chemistry and education; Little's love of small-town life; segregation in the South; discussion of beginnings of Research Triangle Park.
Matriculated at Lenoir-Rhyne College; considered Duke University's combined B.S. and MD degree, but decided against medicine when interviewers lit up cigars; discussion of state colleges and technical institutes in North Carolina system; facilities in undergraduate chemistry laboratory; inspiring professors; majors in mathematics, chemistry,and biology.
Enters University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on one of the first year of Morehead Scholarships; discussion of James Motley Morehead III and the Morehead Scholarships; completes a Master's degree in physical chemistry but switches to organic chemistry for his Ph.D. ; William Kenan's discovery of acetylene gas at the University of North Carolina, and his ties to James Morehead; founding of Union Carbide Corporation. Had a one-year postdoc at University College London, where he was interested in aromatic nitration.
Spent one year co-teaching a class at Reed University. Interested there in apocynol. Recruited back to University of North Carolina. Worked there on ferrocene, which led to interest in organometallic chemistry. Worked on analogs of Vitamin B12.
Asked to help establish Research Triangle Park. Spent two years recruiting companies to expand into RTP. First induced Research Triangle Institute, then Chemstrand Corporation to join Park. Discusses importance of county identity in North Carolina.
Became Vice Chancellor of Research Administration under the dean of the graduate school; gained extensive knowledge of all parts of University. Next, five years as Chairman of chemistry department, where he oversaw huge growth, revised curriculum, built a new building, won a Science Development Grant, established term limits on chairmanship, established merit pay. Spent five years as head of Research, Development, and Public Service Office, where he established University-wide capital funds drive, and exceeded the goal.
Sacrifice of his own chemistry career. Future of academic chemistry. Discussion of screening companies that enter the Park; zoning into research and research applications. Relationship of Park with the University of North Carolina; relationship with individual faculty members; relationship with Research Triangle Park Foundation; relationship with North Carolina government. Responsibilities of Foundation; change expected change when remaining 10% of land is sold; renovation of existing Park facilities. Helping other North Carolina areas develop their own parks. Foundation's profits of $40–50 million used to support joint programs of University of North Carolina, Duke University, and North Carolina State University.
About the Interviewer
Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.
Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.