Ron Gentry ’64 recalls distinctly the moment that put him on his lifelong career path in chemistry. During his junior year at the University of Redlands, he was sitting in a car alongside his research advisor, Professor Julian (Jay) Roberts, returning to campus from an American Chemical Society meeting in Los Angeles.
“He mentioned this new field of chemistry [molecular beams], and I was absolutely captivated,” Ron says.
Following this introduction to the field, Ron chose to complete his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, based on its emerging research in this area. He went on to conduct postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, funded by a National Science Foundation fellowship, which he obtained with Jay’s recommendation. This launched Ron’s career. He served for 35 years on the chemistry faculty of the University of Minnesota and completed groundbreaking research on topics including molecular energy transfer, state-to-state reaction dynamics, laser chemistry, and spectroscopy.
“For three years, Jay was the most important person in my life,” says Ron. “He was my mentor, but he was also like an older brother.”
Ron also met his future wife, Sharron, at the U of R, where she worked in the chemistry stockroom. They were married the day after his U of R graduation, and Jay stood as their best man. The following summer, the Gentrys attended Jay’s wedding to Jane Keeney (Jane Keeney Roberts), whom he met when she joined the University as a member of the French faculty.
While Jay was generally described as reserved and observant, Jane recalls an instance early in their marriage where she clearly witnessed his passion for teaching. “I was walking in Hornby Hall because I wanted to tell him something, and, lo and behold, through the door I spotted him in action, teaching a class,” she says. “I was floored. His demeanor was so different, so dynamic. He obviously wanted to get his students to understand and love chemistry the way he did.”
She also recalls her husband—whom she describes as having “a voracious mind and a kind heart”—assisting students after hours and rewriting instructions for the department’s instrumentation to make them simpler and workable for both faculty and students. “He was totally conscientious about his teaching,” she says. They also frequently hosted backyard picnics for students at their home. The couple was resident faculty for the Salzburg Semester program in the spring of 1989, and Jay retired in 1998 after a 38-year tenure.
On March 15, Jay died peacefully using the California End of Life Option Act after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor.
After his passing, Ron made a commitment to establish the Julian Roberts Memorial Endowed Scholarship. He is providing a dollar-for-dollar matching opportunity for those who contribute toward the $100,000 goal.
“Jay was such an important factor in my life,” Ron says. “He put me on the path I followed my whole career, and I thought something significant needed to be done in his memory.”
To make a gift to the Roberts Memorial Endowed Scholarship, please visit www.redlands.edu/givenow or mail your contribution to University of Redlands Office of Development, P.O. Box 3080, Redlands, CA 92374. For more information on how you can establish a scholarship in a special person’s honor, please contact Gabrielle Singh, senior philanthropic advisor, at 909-748-8349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.