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Irish jokester, professor Richard Wool dies at 67

NewsCampus NewsIrish jokester, professor Richard Wool dies at 67

BY
ASSOCIATE EDITOR

The 44-year marriage of Professor Richard Wool to Deborah Fitzgerald Wool began in Ireland with an eight-word question—“do you want to go to a party?”

Deborah Fitzgerald Wool recounted the romance, which began her senior year of college when she went to Ireland with her father who was on sabbatical. Richard Wool took her out that night and she said she has “been at a party ever since.” They decided to marry on their first date, and within two years, he moved to the United States to become her husband.

richard wool photo
Courtesy of Deborah Fitzgerald Wool
Wool had many passions outside of his chemical engineering field, such as boating.

Richard Wool, father of three daughters, unexpectedly died Tuesday, March 24 of brain anoxia post cardiac arrest. He was 67. Wool had worked as a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university for over two decades.

For his colleagues, such as Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of the engineering college, Wool’s Irish soul brought the “joy of life” to faculty meetings.

“It’s going to be hard to see that empty chair at the meetings,” Ogunnaike said.

Ogunnaike and Abraham Lenhoff, chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, both commended Wool’s pioneering work in the field of green chemistry. This work, which involved manufacturing chemicals in a benign way, was very popular with students in the chemical engineering department and beyond, Lenhoff said.

“Richard’s passion for developing materials from renewable resources included mentoring the next generation of green engineers, made him a highly visible spokesman for the area,” Lenhoff said in an email message.

Wool was born in Cork, Ireland where he attended University College of Cork and received his bachelor of science honors degree before getting his master’s degree and doctorate in materials science and engineering from the University of Utah.

In addition to his love for science and teaching, Wool had many other interests that filled his time. He was an avid musician who could play the guitar, piano and ukulele and he loved tennis and boating.

His wife said he had a knack for combining his academic and professional life with his private life. Wool would take his graduate students and undergraduate students who worked in his lab sailing and host Christmas parties for them at his home. He also invited foreign students to his house on Thanksgiving when he could.

His daughter Meghan Wool said her father always made time for her and her two sisters no matter how busy he was with work. He made up bedtime stories featuring the three girls as main characters and woke them in the morning playing the guitar in his bathrobe.

“He was…kind and generous with his time, with money and with knowledge,” she said.

She said her father brought each niece and nephew from Ireland to stay with their family for an entire summer during the years of their sixteenth birthdays.

“He was not only a great family man with us, but also with his nieces and nephews,” she said. “This helped keep the family close.”

Wool was also quite the jokester. Back when the family was living in Illinois, he had an electrician wire the television up to a hidden switch in a cupboard. It took his daughters years to figure out how he was turning the T.V. set off without pulling the power in the entire house.

Last fall, BBC was filming Wool in his lab, his wife said. They were doing a piece about his engineering work. Wool had arranged for four of his students in the school band to march right through the lab during filming. This practical joke provided further evidence he paired his professional and private lives.

Wool had gone into cardiac arrest March 17 and was in a coma for days until he was pronounced brain dead March 23. As an organ donor, the next day his kidneys and liver were donated.

Wool’s family clapped for him as his body was wheeled into the operating room where doctors took his organs to save three lives.

“The Irish have a great ability to laugh and cry at the same time,” his wife said when asked about her husband.

Wool is survived by his wife Deborah, his three daughters, Sorcha, Meghan and Breeda, as well as his sisters, nieces and nephews. There will be a university-sponsored memorial service held in his honor at 5 p.m. in Mitchell Hall on Wednesday, April 15.

Meghan Jusczak contributed reporting to this article.

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