Robert W. Parry

Born: October 1, 1917 | Ogden, UT, US
Died: December 1, 2006 | Salt Lake City, UT, US

After his formative years Ogden, Utah, Robert W. Parry attended Weber College but earned his BS from Utah State University, his MS from Cornell University, and his PhD from the University of Illinois. Parry's career includes performing research for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and positions at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, the Munitions Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and the University of Utah. Later, Parry became involved with the Gordon Research Conferences, serving as conference chairman, an executive committee member, and chairman of the board of directors. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0257
No. of pages: 45
Minutes: 210

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Arthur Daemmrich
19 July 2002
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Abstract of Interview

Robert W. Parry begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood in Ogden, Utah. After graduating from Ogden High School, Parry attended Weber College for two years, where he studied chemistry until his funding ran out. At that point, Parry started performing research for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. When Rudger H. Walker, Parry's supervisor at the Forest Service, became dean of the College of Agriculture at Utah State University in Logan, Parry followed him, and there received his B.S. in 1940. Parry continued his education, earning his M.S. from Cornell University in 1942 and his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1946. Parry briefly discusses his early career, which included positions at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, the Munitions Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and the University of Utah. Parry then discusses at length his experiences with the Gordon Research Conferences (GRC). Parry attended his first conference on inorganic chemistry in the 1950s and has attended almost every Inorganic Chemistry Conference since. Parry has served GRC as a conference chairman, as an executive committee member, and as chairman of the board of directors. Parry describes the evolution of GRC through four distinct eras: the Gibson Island Conferences, and the directorships of W. George Parks, Alexander M. Cruickshank, and Carlyle B. Storm. Parry concludes the interview with a discussion of the strengths and importance of GRC. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1940 Utah State University BS Chemistry
1942 Cornell University MS Inorganic Chemistry
1946 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Inorganic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Illinois at Chicago

1943 to 1945
Research Assistant, National Defense Research Committee, Munitions Development Laboratory
1945 to 1946
Teaching Fellow

University of Michigan

1946 to 1969
Faculty Member
1958 to 1969
Professor of Chemisty

Inorganic Chemistry

1960 to 1963
Founding Editor

University of Utah

1969 to 1997
Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
1997 to 2003
Professor Emeritus


Year(s) Award

Manufacturing Chemists Award for College Teaching


Senior US Scientist Award, Alexander Von Humboldt-Stiftung


DSc, honoris causa, Utah State University


First Governor's Medal of Science, State of Utah


DSc,honoris causa, University of Utah

Table of Contents

Personal Background and Education

Family background and encouragement of education. Undergraduate studies at Weber State College and Utah State University. Research work for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Graduate studies at Cornell University.

Career Path

Development of a new tetryl plant for E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company during World War II. Work at the Munitions Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Doctoral studies with John C. Bailar. Tenured professorship at the University of Michigan. Being lured to the University of Utah by James C. Fletcher.

First Experiences with the Gordon Research Conference (GRC)

Attending the first Inorganic Chemistry GRC, presentation on boron chemistry, and being "eaten alive" by conferees. Format and atmosphere of GRC presentations. Attendance and continuity of the Inorganic Chemistry Conference. Conference sites.

Conference Operations

Applying to GRC. Election of conference chairs. Institution of vice chairs. Cultivation of industrial support by W. George Parks. Establishment of daily schedule by Neil E. Gordon. Involvement of women. Conferees' families at GRC.

Financial Support of GRC in the 1950s and 1960s

Institutional diversity of conferees. Industrial participation and support. Fundraising techniques of Parks and Gordon. First non-industry grant, and development of federal support for GRC. Controversy over military-funded research in the 1970s.

Parks' Resignation

Four eras of GRC. Parry as board chair. Parks is prosecuted by the IRS and resigns.

Evolution of GRC after Parks' Directorship

Roles of Alex and Irene Cruickshank in operations under Parks. Alex appointed director. Gradual shift to academic domination of attendance. Conference evaluation and the selection and scheduling committee. GRC finances. Diversity of attendance and relationship to successful conferences. Storm's leadership and expansion overseas.


Path to becoming GRC board chair. GRC expansion and public relations. GRC's impact on science.


About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

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.