Mar. 8, 1930 - Jun. 24, 2021
Dr. Robert J. Pfeiffer, 91, longtime resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, died June 24, at his home in the Saratoga Retirement Community.
He was born in Floral Park, NY, and graduated from Santa Clara University. After completing a PhD in organic chemistry at Cornell University, he was invited to join the faculty at SCU, where he taught for 40 years, thirteen of them as chair of the Chemistry Department.
In an era of "publish or perish," Dr. Pfeiffer believed that the first mission of a professor at a small undergraduate university was to teach. He did so with distinction: In 1995, he received SCU's coveted Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence.
All of the National Science Foundation grants he received employed undergraduate students in natural products research, synthesizing life essentials for space missions, for example, or analyzing photoluminescence in plants.
In 1963, he was awarded a Fulbright Professorship to teach at UBBS in Lesotho, southern Africa. His NSF grants took him to SUNY Albany and the University of Kansas. One sabbatical, in 1986, allowed him to work with Dr. Kenji Mori, natural products expert at the University of Tokyo.
He was married to Patricia (Pat) Scheuerman, a fellow Cornell grad student, for 61 years. Their three young children joined the Pfeiffers as Peace Corps Volunteers at Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia, in 1972-74.
A man of many talents, Dr. Pfeiffer's hobbies included creating books—from a humorous family genealogy to children's stories for his grandson—documentary films, and handcrafted furniture. His gift for delivering hilarious one-liners is legendary.
He is survived by his wife Pat, son Chris Pfeiffer, daughter Lisa Spitler, grandson Finn Spitler, and brother, Bill Pfeiffer. His sister, Veronica Vasilian, and his daughter Valerie Pfeiffer, predeceased him.
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Published by The Mercury News on Jul. 3, 2021.