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Fall 2001
Requiem for a Heavyweight
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Donald Cram’s creativity and brilliance revolutionized chemistry, opening the doors to new worlds of discovery.

By Frank Stephenson

In You Can't Take it With You, the Pulitzer-winning 1936 Kaufman and Hart Broadway standard, the main character, Grandpa Vanderhof, is big on advice.

"Do what is in your heart," he tells a visitor to his home, "and you carry in yourself a revolution."

Who can know whether Donald Cram, cast in a lead role in the play while a junior chemistry major at Florida's Rollins College in 1940, ever took those literal words to heart. It hardly matters. Since his death June 17 from cancer at age 82, an outpouring of testimonials from Cram's global gallery of friends and colleagues has underscored the inescapable fact that he lived that corny-sounding credo to the hilt.

Upon Cram's death, it seemed that the UCLA community mourned more than just the passing of a Nobel laureate, recipient of the National Medal of Science and one of the world's true giants of biochemical research. University Professor of Chemistry M. Frederick Hawthorne Ph.D. '53, one of Cram's first graduate students (among more than 200 he mentored in his 52 years in Westwood), lauded his "brilliant creativity, integrity and enthusiasm for life and science." William M. Gelbart, chair of chemistry and biochemistry, praised Cram for his "extremely high standards" and the legacy "for doing creative work" that he left to his students. Chancellor Albert Carnesale called Cram "a marvelous teacher and energetic presence ? who honored us by being part of the UCLA family."

To the thousands of undergraduate students lucky enough to get into one of his classes, Cram will be remembered fondly for his trademark bow ties, impish humor and the infectious enthusiasm he brought to his lectures. An avid surfer -- he was known as "Crambo" to his buddies at San Onofre's Old Mans Beach -- and mountain-climber, he dropped his share of extreme-sport metaphors in his day. And he wasn't above capping a class by producing his guitar and belting out a folk tune.


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