A Bittersweet Benchmark

On January 19, 2008, Texas A&M University lost one of its absolute best absolutely too soon: Presidential Professor John L. Hogg, a beloved chemist, champion of undergraduate education and science outreach, and all-around life force of graciousness and good will.

Last summer on a casual jaunt across campus for an errand, I noticed an unfamiliar maroon bench outside the Texas A&M Chemistry Complex that I’d apparently missed for the better part of five years — not unlike its namesake in the case of so many.

BenchThey say every person has a story, and so does this bench, as told here by longtime Texas A&M Chemistry administrator Ron Carter, associate department head and friend of John Hogg:

Dr. Hogg’s 2008 spring class had just started earlier in the week, and his students were very saddened when they were informed of his passing. Various faculty members stepped in to teach his class and take over his undergraduate advising duties and other roles within the department. While we all handled what had to be done, the students stepped up with their own approach, unbeknownst to anyone that I am aware of to this day. Toward the end of the semester, I received an anonymous telephone call, informing me a memorial gift in the name of Dr. John Hogg had been delivered to the front steps of the Chemistry Building. I went outside, and although no one was in sight, there in the bright sunshine was a shiny maroon memorial bench sitting at the base of the grand staircase leading up the Chemistry Building with an inscription on it honoring the memory of Dr. John Hogg. It was a very overwhelming moment to know his students cared and appreciated him so much that they had come together to purchase a lasting memorial in his honor. We have never received a note or letter from anyone claiming credit for his memorial bench. The Department of Chemistry and the College of Science subsequently provided the funds to have it permanently installed under one of the large oak trees at the main entrance to the Chemistry Building where he once sat and talked with students.

PlaqueSix years later, an anonymous gift as altruistic as the man himself continues to pay quiet but constant tribute regardless of weather or season to the memory and the ongoing impact of the beloved chemist well-known for shouldering many a worthwhile cause of great consequence with precious little fanfare while also counseling generations of Aggies toward career excellence in chemistry and inspiring anyone fortunate enough to enter his orbit along the way.

Between the bench and the stately oaks that shade it, it’s a picturesque metaphor for a man most at peace among his students, his colleagues and his chemistry who is clearly and dearly missed by all three.

As colorful and exciting an individual as his trademark tie-dyed lab coat, Dr. John Hogg and the Chemistry Road Show program he created introduced more than 2,000 people each year to the wonders of chemistry, physics and general science with the help of fire, explosions, weird polymers and super cold materials.

As colorful and exciting an individual as his trademark tie-dyed lab coat, Dr. John Hogg and the Chemistry Road Show program he created introduced more than 2,000 people each year to the wonders of chemistry, physics and general science with the help of fire, explosions, weird polymers and super cold materials.

7 thoughts on “A Bittersweet Benchmark

  1. Pingback: 2014 In Review | Texas A&M Science

  2. Great article Shana! Dr. John Hogg was a fantastic scientist and communicator and an inspiration to thousands across Texas and beyond. Texas A&M is indeed a much better place because of what he did. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

    • Agreed, Mark, and thank you for the kind remembrance. This one still hurts and always will, but being secure in the knowledge that Dr. Hogg lives on in the minds and hearts of the many generations he touched certainly helps.

  3. Awesome tribute. I had several opportunities to work with Dr. Hogg while a part of the College of Science Dean’s Office staff, and while supervising the Learning Resource Center. He was a great person, as well as a great educator; I considered him a friend, and continue to miss his wisdom and humor. I remember sitting in on one of his student orientation sessions, which he ended by saying, “And if you have any problems, any problems at all – solve them.” Thanks for this article, Shana!

    • Great anecdote, Portia — sounds just like him and his mindset. Of course, he’d be the first one ready and willing to help, whatever the problem! Thank you for sharing your kind thoughts and memories.

  4. I had Dr. Hogg for Organic Chemistry in 1980 and I can truly say he was the best teacher I had in my 4 years at Texas A&M University. He cared about his students and passed on a passion for chemistry to generations of students. He was a very special man, teacher and mentor. One of a kind!

    • Agreed, Christina! I’m thinking maybe I should have stuck in out in premed, just for the opportunity to have had him as a professor. 😉 Thank you for sharing your fond memories — means a lot to so many, as did Dr. Hogg.

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