On the desk in room 305 of Converse Laboratory a set of chemical flasks and test tubes have lain unused for thirty days. It was a month ago that the man who formerly manipulated them with masterly skill, until then in active and buoyant health at 72, was suddenly forced to a sickbed. Now they must go to another owner, for Elmer Peter Kohler passed away Tuesday morning.
Professor Kohler, one of the world's most brilliant organic chemists, has been an integral part of the Harvard scene for 26 years: he has taught Chemistry 5 every year since 1912, when he came to Harvard after 20 years of teaching at Bryn Mawr. One of the first two graduate students who studied with him was James B. Conant '14, who also worked under him during the war. As a scientist, he was outstanding--his work in unsaturated organic compounds is internationally known and respected--but it was as a teacher and a man that the unique quality of his personality made itself most felt.
He never gave a public address; he went to only one scientific meeting in his life. His retiring nature was far from a result of shyness, but sprang rather from a sense of the dignity of the scientific life and a natural distrust of confabs, which he regarded as a waste of time. Emerson's observation about a better mousetrap was particularly applicable to Professor Kohler, for although he forced himself on nobody, his reputation for sagacity and good judgment caused chemists the world over to beat a path to the door of his office for advice on technical matters, academic appointments, or personal affairs.
But "The King," as Kohler was known to two generations of students, was above all a stimulating and sympathetic teacher--sympathetic especially to the needs and problems of the beginner. Kohler-trained chemists throughout the country will carry on the teaching tradition which he established at Harvard.