By Vickie Williamson
Merlin "Larry" Peck, esteemed chemical educator, died Thursday, January 14, 2016. Larry served the ACS Division of Chemical Education in a number of roles, including host for Division hospitality suites (in the 1980’s), division treasurer (1997-1999), member of various committees including Awards, Long Range Planning, Finance, and Gifts (from 1999), member of the Data Base Task Force, and chair of the Finance committee (2003).
Born the ninth of 11 children, he was raised on a potato farm in Melba, Idaho, where he learned the meaning of hard work and teamwork. A farm accident in August 1958 made it impossible for him to go to the University of Idaho to play football. He entered The College of Idaho without a clear goal. A caring teacher guided him into chemistry. He graduated in 1962 and entered graduate school at Montana State University, where he earned a doctoral degree.
Larry left Montana to begin a teaching career at Lake Superior State College. Three years later, he left for the University of Arizona where, as well as lecturing, he had the opportunity to help develop a guide to aid other teachers. That guide was very instrumental in his obtaining a position with the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. There, Larry developed audio and video courses for training chemical technicians.
The experience at ACS led to his receiving an offer from Texas A&M (TAMU) to return to teaching and to develop curriculum materials for laboratory programs. His videotaped lab instructions have been viewed by more than 100,000 Aggies. At TAMU, he had the opportunity to contribute to textbooks, lab manuals, instructors' guides and solutions guides, all designed to help others become better teachers. He traveled throughout Texas to schools to present a chemistry road show. Larry co-directed a number of chemical education graduate students, who are a part of his legacy. Larry was know for his love of demonstrations and helped instructors from all levels to incorporate these into their teaching. For the last eight years of his tenure at TAMU, he was director of the freshman chemistry programs. Until his retirement in 2006, Larry was very active in science teaching at all levels and directed programs designed to improve the teaching of physical science. Larry impacted many who teach chemistry and physical science at the university and precollege levels.
He had the opportunity to lead summer workshops in many states and to teach in Japan; Tallahassee, Florida; Tempe, Arizona; and Ohio (Kent State). He wanted all students to enjoy science. The first-year chemistry textbook he co-authored is currently in its 10th edition and is one of the more frequently used college general chemistry texts at both American and international schools. He won the Catalyst Award (a national award for excellence in chemistry teaching) presented by the Chemical Manufacturers Association in 2000; Texas A&M's Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching in 2002; the Skoog Cup sponsored by the Hughes Foundation and awarded by the Science Teacher’s Association of Texas for career-long achievements to science education at all levels in 2005; and the Division of Chemical Education's Outstanding Service to the Division Award in 2007.
In 2006, Larry retired to Lewiston, Idaho, where he enjoyed fishing, traveling, woodworking, volunteering and spending time with family and friends. He was very proud of his family and loved them unconditionally. Larry is survived by his wife of 52 years, Sandra Hill Peck, his daughters, Molly Levine and Marci (Robert) Culp, and a large extended family. Donations in his honor can be made to the Larry Peck Endowment for Chemical Education fund, with Account 57691 on the check memo line. Donations should be mailed to Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, TX 77840. Larry will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by a host of chemical educators whose teaching and creative activities were forever changed by his influence.