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