Tribute to the Passing of Paul Bourassa
Paul N. Bourassa, long-time SAS member, Distinguished Service Awardee, Fellow, Treasurer, and friend, born July 12,1947, passed away from cancer on July 19, 2020. Paul was equally involved with FACSS/SciX, serving in multiple roles including General Chairman and Governing Board President. He received the FACSS Distinguished Service Award in 2011. From the time of its founding until his death, he served on the editorial advisory board of Spectroscopy. He was Vice-president of Blue Moon Inc., his wife Linda’s public relations firm. He was also Clerk of Session at Farmington Presbyterian Church in Memphis, concluding his nineteen-year term in 2015.
Paul received his bachelor’s degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology under the direction of Peter Lykos. After working on mass spectrometry at the University of Chicago, the first part of his career was spent at Great Lakes Chemical Company/UOP, where he practiced many types of chemical analysis, but focused on spectrometry. He developed skill not only in measurement but also in preparation for measurement. He was known to ask, “not what is the question the customer asked, but what is the right question to solve the customer’s problem?” He harped on the importance of sample preparation. While at UOP, he was President of the Chicago Section of SAS. He later chaired the SAS Tour Speaker Program. He prided himself as a “spectral interpretationalist”, and with Jim Rydzak and John Coates taught short courses on understanding vibrational spectra. He then spent the latter half of his career as Director of Manufacturing at Lifeblood Midsouth Regional Blood Center in Memphis, Tennessee, then as Director of Corporate Compliance at Unity Hospice Care LLC and Vice-president of Southern Health Care Solutions before retiring to The Villages, Florida. Although he was no longer a bench chemist after moving to Tennessee, his involvement with the Society continued as if spectroscopy were all-consuming. His final career move was as a humorous writer. Boomerang, published in 2020, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and perhaps others.
Just as William Fateley was remembered as an outstanding spectroscopist, but more for his adventures and stories, so Paul is remembered for the friends he made, the people he mentored, the integrity always on display, and his gentle steering of organizations in the direction they should go. Here we present some of these stories:
From Ian Lewis: Several years ago, a friend of mine in France, who was a big Jack Daniels fan, was fighting cancer. We spoke and he told me of a new Master Distillers series bottling that was only available in Tennessee. It would not be available in Europe for another year, he really hoped to find one, but didn’t think he had the time to do so. I called Paul, I explained the situation and less than a week later FedEx delivered me a bottle (from Paul). This gave me time to be in Europe and get the bottle to my friend a couple of days before he lost his own battle. Despite being in pain, my friend was excited, and Bruno really appreciated the effort that Paul put in even for someone who Paul didn’t know.
From Debbie Bradshaw: In 1981, I attended my first FACSS meeting in Philadelphia. While I went to that meeting not knowing anyone, I soon met Paul and Jim Julian. Since we attended different sessions (Paul molecular and me atomic), we must have met at some of the FACSS organized social activities and developed a friendship during that week. After a couple of days at FACSS, it was Paul who introduced me to SAS, and it didn’t take much to convince me that this was an organization I wanted to join. After that first year, when I attended FACSS I no longer felt like I was going to a meeting where I knew no one. Thank you, Paul, not only for that first introduction, but for all the succeeding years of friendship! (Editor’s note: For much of SAS’s existence, a large fraction of the membership would claim that the reason they joined and valued the Society was because one member brought them into the fold and made them feel part of something. Friendship, science, and service tightly intermingled. And that’s who Paul was: friend, scientist, businessperson, service to others.)
From John Coates: The passing of Paul, a dear friend for 42 years, was a great shock and is a great loss to the civilian and scientific/spectroscopy world. Paul was one of the kindest, gentlest, and most caring persons that I have ever known. He was incredibly fair in the way that he dealt with people as exemplified by the first time that we met back in 1978. At that time, I was just “off the boat” arriving from the UK, a spectroscopist with a well-known instrument company. I was called by the sales department to go to Chicago at a few hours’ notice to help with a demonstration for Paul Bourassa, whom I’d never met. On the way to meet Paul, I was told that this was not going to be a straightforward demo. The salesman had hyped up the instrument and what it could do…it was the best thing since sliced bread! Paul was in the market for a new instrument and a competing company had gotten to Paul first and was about to take the order for the instrument…that day! Well, the salesman said that Paul would be making a big mistake by not considering the new instrument, and he convinced Paul to have a demo. The problem was that the only demo instrument was a flight away and the decision had to be made that day. The salesman convinced a friend of Paul’s, who had one of these new instruments, to make it available, and the demo was all set. Paul was an incredibly fair person and he told the competing salesman that the demo was going to happen. Paul had arranged a truly fair approach––to have competing demos of the instruments in the same room, adjacent to each other. Paul said to both salesmen…OK…you say you have the best instrument…then, PROVE IT! Paul had a list of tasks to perform. There were some glitches, all resolved by lunchtime. We had a nice lunch; back in 1978 salesmen knew how to DO LUNCH! Between lunch and 5:00 PM, the live competing demos were completed. We all packed up, shook hands… and on departing Paul smiled and whispered to me… I will see you again… tomorrow! That was the start of a great friendship. With time we formed the Three Spectroscopic Amigos…the Bourassa–Rydzak–Coates traveling group and we traveled the USA and Europe teaching our favorite topic…SPECTROSCOPY! Goodbye Paul, my dear friend…I will miss your great smile and your great caring and empathy for others.
From Alex Scheeline: In 1989 Paul saved FACSS from disaster. When the Chicago unions tried to bully us into having electricians plug in computers and decorators hang posters at the poster session, Paul stood up to them––and won. If I recall correctly, he only told Bob Michel and me what he’d done after he’d gotten the unions to back down. How many people do you know who went toe-to-toe with the Chicago unions, and then reported his success nonchalantly with a tone of, “I had an interesting meeting last week?” Paul’s the only one I know.
From David Coleman: Paul Bourassa was a gentleman of the first degree. In our SAS/FACSS interactions over many years, few worked harder, few were kinder, few were as consistently effective, and few were humbler about the impact of their input. I will miss my valued friend and colleague.
From Arlene Garrison: Paul and I spent a lot of time working together on the FACSS meeting at Opryland Nashville Tennessee in 2000. It was fitting to hold the meeting in our “home state” since Paul served as Chair of FACSS Governing Board in 1994, and it required a few years of lobbying the Board to hold the meeting in Nashville. Tennessee is in two time zones, and we lived on opposite ends of the state. Organizing the conference, about halfway between our homes, was a challenge in the days of long distance phone calls. Paul was always the gentle, calm voice, and kept things running smoothly. Paul is greatly missed by the spectroscopy community and his friends in Tennessee.
From Jim Rydzak: As was already mentioned, Paul taught an industrial short course on Vibrational Spectroscopy with John Coates and me. This course was taught not only in the US, but for many years, in Amsterdam. After our day of teaching, John, Paul, and I would go out to eat. Amsterdam is a city with many types of cuisines and often, since John had more occasions to have visited there than Paul or me, we would rely on John to pick restaurants. We went to Thai, Chinese, and all sorts of interesting eateries. We came to find out that Paul was very much a meat and potatoes sort of guy. Paul taught the third day the course and we had been to several places for dinner that served anything but meat and potatoes. Since I was off for the first time that week, I was out exploring on Wednesday morning and found the perfect restaurant. So, at lunch and during break, I was talking about this great place that Paul would love for dinner. He believed that I was pulling his leg and it was another sushi place or something of that ilk. I didn’t dispel that thought, just insisted that he was going to love it. For the rest of the afternoon and all during the tram ride to downtown we kept up the suspense! It was with much trepidation that Paul joined John and me as we wound our way through the maze of alleys in Amsterdam and found ourselves at … wait for it … The Memphis BBQ. You should have seen the look of relief and delight on Paul’s face.
From SAS Office Staff Bonnie Saylor and Stephane Iocco: Paul was a true friend to SAS and to us personally. His smile and positivity were infectious. He never had an unkind word for anyone, but always stood up for what he believed in. He listened, he counseled, he laughed, he loved. He would staunchly support SAS and us in no uncertain terms. We hung out with Paul at so many SAS/SciX events sitting in corner booths of a speakeasy talking, trying on derby hats while experiencing Churchill Downs together, touring breweries, and riding boats to name a few. He loved his family and God more than anything. He was one of a kind and we will miss our dear friend tremendously. Rest easy Paul and know you were and always will be loved.
Paul was always interested in helping people learn about spectroscopy. He taught a section about hyphenated FT-IR techniques in the short course. In addition, he wrote numerous articles in Spectroscopy that were very practical and helped people learn different sampling techniques for vibrational spectroscopy and how to employ them to handle various applications. Paul, we will all miss you, your good nature, wry sense of humor, thoughtfulness, levelheaded decision making in FACSS and SAS matters, caring, and your very expressive smile!
As Gloria Story noted, he was “a treasure beyond measure”.
Paul is survived by his wife Linda and daughter Rachel.
Contributed by Alex Scheeline,