Amherst Magazine

ROGER PEABODY KAMBOUR ’54

For the first time in my 73 years, my brother, Roger, is not with me.  After a lengthy illness, Roger died on Dec. 20, 2008, in Niskayuna, N.Y., at age 76.

I will miss my “big bro” dearly.  I hold him in my heart and am warmed by wonderful memories.  He was my childhood guide and role model.  He taught me the ropes of life, sometimes much to the chagrin of our parents.  Sports, reading, adventures in the fields and woods of rural Massachusetts, Saturday afternoon movies, school, hanging out with the guys and, yes, girls.  He was cool.

Early on Rog was able to segregate academic matters from extra-curricular diversions.  He had a great sense of mix and balance.  Not gifted athletically, with great determination he played on the Wilmington High School football team as a 150 lb. tight end.  Rog played the piano and sang with the glee club and church choir led by director and organist, our mother, Ada Mattraw Kambour (Smith ’27).  In June 1949, as class valedictorian, he received his diploma from our father, Principal George C. Kambour ’29.  A very special moment!

With great pride, Rog led the third generation of Kambours at Amherst.  He delighted in nephew Jeff ’81 and son Chris ’86 forming the fourth, daughter Liese attending Harvard-Radcliffe ’83 and youngest son, Josh, matriculating at Lafayette in the Class of 2010.

Roger’s years at Amherst were special for him in many ways.  While classes, labs and Theta Xi activities commanded the bulk of his time and energy, Rog pursued his music as a member of the glee club and worked in Valentine bussing tables, “junioring” and as a gray coat.  The friendships formed with roommate Ed Melick, Tom Armstrong and other fraternity brothers carried on through his life.

Rog received his B.A. cum laude in chemistry from Amherst and went on to the Univ. of New Hampshire where he earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry.  In 1960 he married his first wife, Virginia Dyer (Smith ’58) and began a 38-year career as a research chemist at the G.E. Research and Development Center in Niskayuna, N.Y.

In the hit 1967 movie, The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was told in one word the road to success . . . plastics.  By 1967 Roger was well along his own professional road that would make him a world-renowned polymer scientist.

From Mike Takemori ’68, a colleague in G.E.’s Research Center: “Roger was one of the earliest scientists to be chosen to receive the prestigious Coolidge Fellowship, G.E.’s highest individual award for technical excellence.  He was also recognized by the American Physical Society with their Ford Prize honoring pioneers of polymer physics research.

“Roger, we would often refer to as the ‘father of crazes.’  It was Roger who discovered that polymer crazing, which is the primary mechanism of polymer failure (fracture), is unique to polymers, and not found in other materials such as metals or ceramics.  Roger was the scientist who uncovered the structure of the polymer craze and showed that it was not a crack, and that its unique structure was ultimately responsible for the wonderfully diverse failure behavior of polymers, a fascinating field that dominated a whole branch of polymer research in the latter half of the twentieth century.  Success through Failures was the eye-catching, mind-teasing title of one of Roger’s technical reviews.  It has been a formula that allowed me to follow in the footsteps of this giant of G.E. Research.”

Outwardly quiet and unassuming, Roger had an inner sparkle and a wonderful wit as evidenced by his frequent puns, riddles, limericks and ditties. He was active in the community, an avid and accomplished black trail skier and member of the National Ski Patrol, a sailing and hiking enthusiast, a member of local choral groups, a wonderful cook, a world traveler and a frequent visitor to Amherst.  He and his second wife, Barbara Vivier, a colleague at the G.E. Research Center, thoroughly enjoyed a rich and diverse life together for 25 years. 

Roger was predeceased by our parents and sister, Connie (Smith ’57).  Amherst has lost a loyal son and the Class of ’54 a valued classmate; his wife and three children have lost a devoted husband and father; I have lost a loved and admired brother.  The entire Kambour family with his classmates, friends and professional colleagues mourn his loss.

—Ted Kambour ’57

 

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