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Darwin L. Mayfield, PhD obituary

Darwin Lyell Mayfield PhD’50 died peacefully at his home in Pasadena, California, on April 29, 2017, at age 97.

Darwin was born on February 22, 1920, in Somerset, Kentucky, to Samuel and Flora Mayfield. The family lived in Berea, Kentucky, until Darwin was 12, after which they moved around the country during the Great Depression, living in Oregon and Montana before finally settling in Bowling Green, Ohio, where Darwin graduated from high school. Darwin continued his education at Bowling Green State University, earning a B.S. in chemistry.

During World War II, Darwin pursued graduate studies in chemistry at the University of Chicago, fulfilling his World War II service on matters related to the Manhattan Project. While at Chicago, he met and fell in love with fellow University of Chicago graduate student Norma Louise Grill. The couple were married in October 1945 and began a lifetime of love, laughter, and adventurous world travel together, beginning with a trip to Europe shortly after the war.

Following the war, Darwin completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He and Norma then moved to Moscow, Idaho, where Darwin taught chemistry at the University of Idaho, Moscow, until 1955, when both he and Norma were awarded Fulbright lectureships to teach in Bangkok, Thailand. Their first child, Diane, was born during their year there.

Following their year in Bangkok, Darwin and Norma returned to the U.S., settling in Long Beach, California, where their second child, Nancy, was born. Here, Darwin taught organic chemistry at California State University, Long Beach, from 1956 until his retirement in 1990 at age 70. During his tenure at CSULB, he also served as chemistry department chair and as Director of Research. In the summers, Darwin took his family on many exciting trips across the United States and abroad. Longer adventures included a sabbatical year in France, where he conducted research at a scientific research center in Paris, and another in Egypt, where he taught chemistry at Ain Shams University in Cairo on his second Fulbright lectureship.

Upon Darwin’s retirement from teaching, his students honored him by founding the Mayfield Outstanding Professor Award, an award given each year by vote of the students of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to a teacher or professor who exemplifies the enthusiasm and excellence in teaching that Dr. Mayfield brought to his classes.

Darwin remained active in retirement as a teacher, leading his popular “Paws and Jaws” biology course for elementary school students, and later teaching a pre-freshman course at CSULB to help prepare incoming students for the rigors of college. He also served as a volunteer docent at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach for many years, all while continuing his far-flung travels with Norma. In all these activities, he continued to display the intellectual curiosity that was a hallmark of his life.

Darwin is survived by his two daughters, Diane Mayfield (John Laughney) and Nancy Wilms (Robbie Wilms); grandchildren Shauna O’Brien (Jeremy O’Brien) and Nick Wojdak (Tiffany Holm); great-grandson Benjamin O’Brien; niece Erin Cressida Wilson (John MacKenzie); and great-nephew Liam MacKenzie.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his beloved wife of nearly 67 years, Norma; and his sister Lois Mayfield Wilson.

Many thanks to the staff of Pasadena Highlands, who took such good care of Darwin in his later years. A private celebration of life will be held by Darwin’s family at a later date.

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