Elizabeth J. Rock


Black and white portrait of Elizabeth “Betty” J. Rock

Our teacher, mentor, and dear friend Elizabeth “Betty” J. Rock died in Needham, Mass., on Nov. 7, 2022. Betty received a B.S. from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, an M.S. from Smith College, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Penn State. Before coming to Wellesley, she taught at Vassar College and at the University of Tennessee.

Betty, also known as B.J., joined the faculty at Wellesley in 1959 and was a professor of chemistry until her retirement in 1992. She was a beloved teacher to generations of students and a treasured mentor to faculty throughout the College. A versatile administrator, she influenced more than a generation of College leaders during her 33 years at Wellesley. A faculty colleague wrote: “I loved watching Betty, along with the other amazing Science Center women, in Academic Council. I so wanted to be like them: stalwart, sure of themselves, but willing to learn new things.”

At Wellesley, Betty was “first” at many things. She was the inaugural Nellie Z. Cohen and Anne Cohen Heller Chair in the Health Sciences. She directed students in the earliest National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Opportunities summer programs at the College, beginning in the early 1960s. She was the first faculty director of the Science Center during the crucial planning period for the 1977 Science Center expansion, and was the first director of sponsored research. Her course in chemistry and art was one of the first truly interdisciplinary courses at Wellesley. Betty was also a longtime member of the U.S. Army Science Board (ASB), one of only a handful of women who served at the time she became involved. According to an ASB spokesperson, “Her reputation and her work on the ASB leave a legacy that will never be forgotten.”

Betty was a formidable individual, but she was a warm and caring person. In 1969, when some faculty were outraged by student rebellion and Vietnam protests, Betty saw hope. She said of the protesters, “They want to change the world, and it is our business to help them find the ways.” She was supportive of her colleagues and students in good times and bad, playing golf or tennis with them, and comforting them in times of need. Those who were privileged to know her loved her. Christopher Arumainayagam, professor of chemistry, wrote: “I was supposedly hired to replace her in the department. As I told her many times, nobody could replace her. She was one of a kind.”

—Nancy Harrison Kolodny ’64, Nellie Zuckerman Cohen and Anne Cohen Heller Professor Emerita of Health Sciences and professor emerita of chemistry; Christopher Arumainayagam, Nancy Harrison Kolodny ’64 Professor of Chemistry; and Elizabeth Caeser Lieberman ’63, instructor in chemistry emerita


Susan E. Rittenhouse (Rittenhouse) ’66
"Miss" Rock, as she was known to her students in the '60s (I hope that has since changed and "Dr." or "Professor" substituted), was an outstanding teacher and role model. She was an affirmation of my decision to come to Wellesley and major in Chemistry. There were so many wonderful faculty at Wellesley during my years there, and she was one of the best. I went on to become a Professor of Biochemistry (now Emerita), and tried to emulate her.
Susan Van der Eb Greene (Van der Eb) ’65
I was the only science major (Chemistry) in the History of Science course that Miss Rock introduced. It was a fabulous course. There I learned the basics of astronomy and the evolution of atomic theory. Miss Rock cared and expanded my liberal arts education immensely. I never thought twice about entering the work force as an analytical chemist, because of our female scientist role models. We were empowered by their example.
Barbara Drake Boehm (Boehm) ’76
Miss Rock’s opinion was sought as to how best to clean the great stone lions in front of the New York Public Library, their necks discolored from years of Christmas wreaths. I think of her each time I pass those beauties on 42nd and Fifth Avenue. Thank you, Miss Rock, for helping this art historian fulfill her science requirement!
Christina Redfield (Redfield) ’79
I spent the summer of 1977 doing a research project in the brand new Science Center with Mr Lyons (yes, even in the late 70's we referred to the professors as Mr/Ms/Miss/Mrs which does seem strange). At the end of the summer, I attended the American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago with Mr Lyons, Miss Rock and her summer student. It was an eye opening experience that strengthened by interest in becoming an academic scientist; I was dazzled by the amazing equipment on display and by the fascinating talks. The 'black tar' products of my organic synthesis project put me off a career in Organic Chemistry. However, the NMR project I did with Nancy Kolodny during the summer of 1978 and as my senior thesis set me on the path for a PhD in Physical Chemistry and a career in NMR spectroscopy; 45 years later I still love NMR. Inspirational women in the Wellesley Chemistry Department like Professors Rock and Kolodny (plus Professors Crawford and Levy) were fantastic role models and I wouldn't be where I am today without them!
Carol Pantuck (Bergen) ’60
How fast the years have flown. Elizabeth Rock was a new professor, only a few years older than I was, teaching a challenging physical chemistry course for my senior year as a chemistry major. I am delighted to see how productive her years were and saddened by her loss.

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