In Memoriam: Dr. Harold M. McNair (1933-2021)
(July 22, 2021) It is with profound sadness that the department announces the passing of Professor Emeritus Harold M. McNair on June 27, 2021.
Harold Monroe McNair was born May 31, 1933 in Miami, Arizona to Joseph Edward McNair and Helen Wilhelmina Ericks. He earned a B.S. in Chemistry magna cum laude at the University of Arizona in 1955 and went onto Purdue University where he graduated with a M.S. in Analytical Chemistry in 1957 and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry in 1959. During his doctoral studies, he worked in industry in the summers; one summer he met Nobel laureate A. J. P. Martin at Amoco who encouraged his interest in gas chromatography (GC). The next summer, he worked with Steve Dal Nogare from DuPont who “indoctrinated [him] to temperature-programmed GC.” After graduation, Prof. McNair headed to the Netherlands on a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship where he studied with A. I. M. Keulemans at TU Eindhoven and “became convinced he would work on GC as long as he could.” It was also in the Netherlands that he met his future wife, Marijke. The pair were married in 1960 and had three children together: Erik, Josh and Saskia.
After working in industry both abroad in Europe and stateside, the McNairs arrived in Blacksburg in 1968 when Harold took an associate professor position with the Department of Chemistry at Virginia Tech. Here, he found a love of teaching students.
In an interview for LC/GC Europe conducted by McNair group alumnus Kevin Schug, McNair responded that his “greatest achievement is collaborating with my students.” By the time he retired from Virginia Tech in 2002, he had directed the theses of 60 graduate students and supervised over 50 postdoctoral fellows and visiting professors, not to mention countless undergraduate students. All in all, his students number over 200 by his own count. During his 34-year career, the McNair lab made numerous major breakthroughs, including reporting the first capillary gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) results, introducing temperature programmed liquid chromatography (LC) and more.
Throughout his career, McNair was acknowledged for his achievements in gas chromatography, including being named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2017, receiving the ACS Award in Chromatography in 2016 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Chromatography by LC/GC Europe in 2009. These achievements only serve to mark an incredible career, but his influence would be impossible to encapsulate.
McNair was a consummate scientist, always willing to share his knowledge and passion about chromatography. Known as the father of the short course, these courses were the “gold standard” of continuing education and impacted an entire generation of chromatographers. His book, Basic Gas Chromatography, was first published in 1967 and now in its third edition, will continue to influence chromatographers to come.
Outside of the lab, McNair could be found playing tennis. An avid player in his youth, he had received a scholarship to play tennis for the University of Arizona. While free time dwindled, his passion for the sport did not and he continued playing well into his 80s.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a charitable donation to Beans and Rice, Inc. (www.beansandrice.org). McNair group alumni are planning a virtual event to celebrate the life and career of Dr. McNair. Please check back later for details.