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Heckert Endows Chair and Harold R. Snyder Graduate Fellowship

Richard and Joanna HeckertRecently, the Department of Chemistry received a gift from one of its most accomplished, yet humble alums: Dr. Richard E. Heckert. This endowed gift allowed the department to establish a distinguished chair as well as a graduate fellowship.

Born in Oxford, Ohio, in 1924, Heckert spent the years following World War II studying organic chemistry at Illinois with Dr. Harold R. Snyder, his graduate advisor. Snyder had a profound influence on the lives and careers of his students. Indeed, Heckert attributes his success to his mentor. In 1937, Snyder had taken an academic position at the University of Illinois, returning to his educational roots — he graduated with a B.S. from Illinois in 1931 — after spending one year in industry. Though he was new on the scene, Snyder quickly excelled in his role as an educator and researcher. He, Roger Adams, Carl "Speed" Marvel, and R.C. Fuson, became known as the "Big Four" at Illinois.

The endowed chair is named the Richard E. Heckert Chair in Chemistry and an endowed graduate fellowship honors Snyder. Modest and unpretentious, at first Heckert, who graduated from Illinois with a A.M./M.A. degree in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1949, did not wish to have the chair named after himself, preferring instead that it be named after Snyder, acknowledging his debt of gratitude to his mentor. With the urging of senior officials in the Foundation, and the request of the Department of Chemistry, Heckert agreed to allow the chair to be in his name. "Dick's extraordinary generosity is already having an enormously positive impact on our faculty and students," noted Steve Zimmerman, Head of the Department of Chemistry. "It is wonderful that such a great friend to our department could honor an Illinois great like Harold Snyder, while at the same time allowing us to recognize one of our most successful alums."

Heckert has established himself as a leader in his own chosen arena: the DuPont Company. Beginning as a research scientist in the experimental station laboratories in the central research department, Heckert quickly moved through the ranks, holding multiple positions in his time with the DuPont Company, including supervisor of the film department in the Cellophane Research and Development Laboratory; plant manager of the Circleville, Ohio, Mylar Plant; director, senior vice president and member of the executive committee; president and chief operating officer of DuPont Operations; vice chairman and chief operating officer; and finally as chairman and chief executive officer. At every step Heckert's accomplishments were matched by his desire to lead an already successful company to newer and better heights.

Corporate and industrial competition for DuPont Company was exceptionally fierce in the 1980s, fueled by rising energy and raw material costs and an increasing number of competing organizations. Stepping into the role of CEO at the height of this competition in 1986, Heckert brought his customer-centered approach to bear on the difficulties plaguing DuPont. Placing emphasis on marketing efforts, building successful areas while trimming back weaker sectors, and consolidating and reorganizing departments to better serve customers, Heckert helped DuPont maintain its position as an industry leader despite the competition.

Several years ago Fortune magazine described Heckert as a "gregarious, relaxed, and unflappable… 6-foot-3, friendly bear of a boss," but Heckert has not let his success in industry consume all his attention. Throughout his life, he has been a committed philanthropist and volunteer. He has held positions such as president of the United Way of Delaware; trustee and chairman of the board of the Carnegie Institute of Washington; president of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn.; member of the Advisory Commission for Trade Negotiations; chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers; and trustee of the Delaware Council on Economic Education.

To read the full Department of Chemistry Newsletter, please visit us at chemistry.illinois.edu/newsletter

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