December 22, 2006

SMU Remembers Professor Harold Jeskey,
Mentor to Hundreds of Aspiring Physicians

Harold A. Jeskey

DALLAS (SMU) – A memorial service for Harold A. Jeskey, R.S. Lazenby Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Southern Methodist University, is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, in the sanctuary of Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Ln., at the southwest corner of the SMU campus. Dr. Jeskey died Friday, Dec. 22, at the age of 94.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Harold Jeskey,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “He was a beloved member of the SMU family for more than 60 years, staying active in the campus community long after his official retirement. His love for the university, its students, and his profession have left a legacy of excellence at SMU. His memory will always be cherished, and our heartfelt sympathy and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.”

Dr. Jeskey taught organic chemistry at SMU from 1945-79, becoming a full professor in 1958. Later named to the R.S. Lazenby Chair in Chemistry, Dr. Jeskey also served as chair of the Chemistry Department from 1962-74. With Edgar Wertheim, he cowrote Introductory Organic Chemistry, published by McGraw-Hill in 1956.

Since 1967, with the creation of a scholarship fund in his name, Jeskey’s former students have honored the man many call their role model and mentor with the Harold Jeskey Chair in Chemistry and the 98-seat Harold Jeskey Lecture Hall in SMU’s Dedman Life Sciences Building, dedicated in 2001. Many former students still remember the professor’s beautifully organized lectures, delivered without notes; Jeskey’s “final lecture” in 1987 brought back to the Hilltop about 160 friends and alumni, affectionately known as “Jeskey’s Boys.”

Dr. Jeskey maintained lifelong ties with many of his former students, hundreds of whom became physicians, dentists, or chemists themselves. Among them were Barry McKernan (’65), who in 1988 became the first surgeon in the United States to use laparoscopic surgery to remove a gallbladder; Floyd Bloom (’56), the neuroscience pioneer who was one of the first researchers to find a chemical link to brain disorders; and Larry Faulkner (’66), a Ph.D. in chemistry who served as president of the University of Texas from 1998-2006.

“Whenever I have an important talk, I am insecure unless I can wear a red tie ... in honor of my teacher,” said Bloom, referring to Dr. Jeskey’s trademark apparel, which Jeskey would replace with black on the days he gave his notoriously challenging exams. When Bloom received his doctorate, Jeskey sent him an autographed red tie as a graduation gift. And wherever “Jeskey’s Boys” gathered, they wore red ties as a nod to their mentor.

“I love organic chemistry and I love to share it with my kids, my students,” Dr. Jeskey told SMU’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus, in 1977. “The joy of helping the students keeps you going. I would say that’s always been my goal. I would be a teacher even if I didn’t have to work for a living.”

Dr. Jeskey also loved SMU athletics. He was a member of the Mustang Club and volunteered in the SMU Sports Information Department for many years after his retirement. He attended most of the football and men’s and women’s basketball home games.

Born in St. Louis, Mo., on Aug. 18, 1912, Dr. Jeskey graduated from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He received his B.A. degree in chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis in 1937 and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1941. He came to SMU in 1945 after three years of teaching at the University of Tennessee-Memphis.

During his SMU career, Dr. Jeskey’s campus leadership included serving as chair of the Pre-Medical Committee and the Faculty Athletic Committee, as well as membership in the SMU Faculty Senate, the Graduate Council, the University College Council, and the Student Union Governing Board.

Dr. Jeskey was listed in American Men of Science and a member of the American Chemical Society, serving as chair of the Dallas-Fort Worth Section from 1947-48 and a member of the National Council from 1948-57. He also served as a clinical professor of biochemistry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The first recipient of SMU’s Phi Eta Sigma Teaching Award in 1951, Dr. Jeskey also became the first recipient of the Alumni Association Teaching Award in 1957. He also received SMU’s Outstanding Professor Award for 1976-77.

Memorials in Dr. Jeskey’s honor may be made to the Harold A. Jeskey Chair in Chemistry or the SMU Department of Athletics. For more information, contact Tricia Barnett at 214-768-2691 or by e-mail at

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