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Philip Cushman Myhre: Harvey Mudd professor, scientist

Harvey Mudd College professor, scientist, husband

Philip Cushman Myhre, emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Chemistry at Claremont’s Harvey Mudd College, died of Alzheimer’s disease on August 26 in Tennessee at the age of 85.

He had been cared for at home for many years, and with increased urgency as his struggles with the disease intensified over the last month.

Mr. Myhre was born in Tacoma, Washington to Ardnt Edwin Myhre, a minister, and Selma Alfrieda Peterson, a teacher. When Mr. Myhre was three, his father was killed in an automobile accident, and his mother began teaching grade school in order to support the family. His paternal grandfather actively participated in the life of young Philip and his older brother Paul, as did several uncles, aunts and church members.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran College in Tacoma, Washington, and his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle. For two years after graduation he was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Nobel Institute of Chemistry in Stockholm, Sweden.

He began a rich and fulfilling life of teaching in 1960 when he was hired by Harvey Mudd College, where he would remain for nearly four decades. At HMC he held the Seeley W. Mudd Professor Chair of Chemistry from 1987 to 1999, when he retired. He was chairman of HMC’s chemistry department from 1981 to 1991. In addition, he was a visiting professor in many countries and spent more than 10 years doing research in collaboration with IBM.

In 1991 he was awarded the American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institute. He was only the sixth individual to receive this honor. His colleagues at HMC said that Mr. Myhre was “at his best when working one-on-one in the research laboratory with an undergraduate collaborator on a project.” Dr. Samuel Tanenbaum, the dean of faculty at the time, stated that “the award ranked among the finest accomplishments that the college has had.”

In January 2015 the school’s department of chemistry received a donation in support of the summer research program for a sophomore chemistry major. The student winning the award would be named the Myhre Fellow, in honor Dr. Myhre’s tremendous accomplishments in research and as a faculty mentor to decades of HMC students.

“Myhre’s prolific publication record and history of continuous grant support are worthy of a career in a graduate institution,” said Dr. William Daub, Professor of Chemistry at HMC. “His impact on his 80-plus undergraduate research collaborators could be measured in their subsequent contributions to the academic and industrial research communities.”

His wife Mary had this remembrance:

“While conducting his work at HMC, he always made me feel a part of that life and never competing with it, as well as providing me constantly with the sustenance, love and support I needed to be successful in my own career. He found the time to be a loving husband, encouraging father and stepfather to our five children. We traveled to wonderful places, but the best times were spent on the Oregon coast where we made wonderful, lifelong friends. We passed hours walking on the beach with our dog, Maggie, collected agates, played golf, and enjoyed drinking cold martinis and eating oysters on the half shell. However, there were always research papers in the beach house! Philip was not only a gentleman, but a quiet, gentle man. He was fun, kind, and a remarkable partner in my life. Philip always felt he was the luckiest man alive to be able to do exactly what he wanted to do in life: be a teacher, lab man, and a mentor to marvelously gifted young men and women.”

Mr. Myhre was preceded in death by his brother Paul in 2015.

He is survived by his loving wife, Mary L. Myhre; daughter Karin Myhre (Rodney Maurcio); stepchildren Gregory Benzon (Beverly), Susan Weissberg (Robert), Sheryl Benzon and Elizabeth Lubinski (Patrick); grandchildren, Gregory and Katherine Lubinski, Meredith H. Weissberg and Margalit Myhre-Maurcio; nieces Kathy Rodriquez (Michael) and Brenda Cooper (Eric) and their children Elly, Zach and Nathaniel Rodriquez, and Kristine and David Cooper.

Services will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at alzheimersresearchfoundation.com, or by check to 3152 Little Road, Suite 145, Trinity, FL 34655; to the Harvey Mudd College Chemistry Student Research Program at hmc.edu, or by check to Harvey Mudd College, Dept. of Chemistry, 301 Platt Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711; to Compassion and Choices at compassionandchoices.org, or by check to PO Box 485, Etna, NH 03750-0485; or to Planned Parenthood Middle and East TN at plannedparenthood.org, or by check to 50 Vantage Way, Suite 255, Nashville, TN 37228-1556.s