In memoriam: Reg Mitchell


Mitchell. Photo: UVic Archives and Special Collections

It is with profound sadness that we mark the passing of Reg Mitchell. Not only did he make incredible contributions to the field of chemistry, but he was also an enormous presence in the university's governance and its vibrant intellectual life.

“Reg loved UVic and he wanted to make it the best place he possibly could,” says former UVic President David Turpin, a big fan of Reg. “He would sit on Senate and ask tough, tough questions but would do it in a way that was so disarming and friendly. But there was substance to it.”

Mitchell was an award-winning teacher, well known for his “chemistry for poets” courses, for partnering in establishing the groundbreaking second-year spectroscopy course which was emulated across Canada, and for his many public lectures and radio appearances.

Mitchell was perhaps best known in the community as his alter ego Dr. Zonk, that zany and charismatic character who enthralled thousands with his array of bangs, flashes and smells—all the while endeavouring to relate back to chemistry and its place in the real world. For his outstanding ability to promote and communicate science to students and to the public within Canada, Mitchell was recognized by the Royal Society of Canada with the award of the McNeill Medal in 2006.

His humility, along with his attentiveness to the field and his students, were simply part of his character. When asked by Turpin why he chose to retire with gas still left in the tank, Mitchell replied, “I've had a great run and I want to make room for others.”

Mitchell and Nels Granwall leading the convocation procession.
Mitchell and Nels Granwall leading the convocation procession. Photo: UVic Archives and Special Collections

Born in London, England in 1943, Mitchell was educated at Battersea Grammar School before moving on to Cambridge, where he obtained his BSc and PhD under the direction of Franz Sondheimer. After a post-doctoral position at the University of Oregon with Virgil Boekelheide, he briefly went back to England to work at Formica before he returned to his beloved West Coast and a post at UVic in 1972.

Mitchell rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming associate professor in 1975 and professor with tenure in 1982. He had a world-wide reputation from his research in the aromaticity of large ring systems which resulted in 160 publications, three books and many invited and plenary lectures. His many successful undergraduate and graduate students, along with his post-doctoral fellows, would attest to his love of research and the attention he paid to it—and to their education and advancement in their chosen field.

Mitchell may also well hold the record for consecutive terms serving on the UVic Senate, during much of which he chaired and directed the work of many important committees, never being afraid to tackle a “thorny” problem which he perceived needed attention. 

Whether it was working with the Faculty Association, serving on the local executive and the Board of the Chemical Institute of Canada, acting as a major force behind the construction of the University Club’s new facilities as Chair of the Board, or serving on UVic’s Ceremonies and Special Events Committee, Mitchell’s contributions were impactful. He was always at the forefront, giving his utmost to ensure that things were done properly and well. He was an avid Science Fair supporter, fisherman and party organizer par excellance.

Reg was predeceased by his wife Wendy, and leaves behind children Helen (Eric), Steve (Jodi) and their mother Mary; Kim (David); brother Rob (Dot) and four grandchildren (and Maggie).

Reg will be missed by all, but will never be forgotten.

—Submitted by Gerald Poulton, UVic Associate Professor Emeritus

To commemorate Reg's legacy, friends and family are establishing the Reg Mitchell Memorial Scholarship. Anyone wishing to contribute to the scholarship can donate online.


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Keywords: in memoriam, chemistry

People: Reg Mitchell

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