Deaths: Clifford Matthews


Clifford Matthews

Clifford Norman Matthews, emeritus professor of chemistry, died May 22 in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was 94.

Matthews was born in 1921 in Hong Kong. His early college education at Hong Kong University was interrupted when he was taken to Japan as a prisoner of war in 1941. After World War II, he moved to London, where he met his future wife, Ibi, and completed his degree in chemistry at Birkbeck College, University of London.

They married in 1947 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1950, living first in Connecticut, where he completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale.

After working as a researcher in industry for several years, Matthews became professor of chemistry at UIC in 1969, teaching there until his retirement in 1992. He won multiple awards — include nine Silver Circle Awards — for his creative teaching of science to non-scientists, incorporating the arts fully into his courses and using evolution as the organizing theme. Matthews saw parallels in the human pursuits of science, religion, and the arts. He co-edited three books exploring these ideas: When Worlds Converge: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Story of the Universe and Our Place in It; Cosmic Beginnings and Human Ends; and Environmental Evolution: Effects of the Origin and Evolution of Life on Planet Earth. 

Matthews was one of the earliest members of the chemistry department.

His scientific research was pioneering and grand in scope, encompassing bold theories of cosmochemistry and the origin of life. He published scientific papers in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Organic Chemistry, and Origins of Life, among others.

He also edited a history of Hong Kong University during the war years entitled Dispersal and Renewal and, in 2010, wrote a memoir with Michael Silverstone, entitled “Star Ferry to Stardust: A Life on Three Continents.”

Until he lost his eyesight in 2007, Cliff was a voracious reader and book lover. He was especially passionate about music; his favorite composers included Jean Sibelius, Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar.

After his wife’s death in 2013, Matthews moved to Rockridge Retirement Community in Massachusetts.

Matthews is survived by two children, Sandra and Christopher; four grandchildren, Matthew Goldfield, Rina Goldfield, Zachary Matthewstearn and Quinn Matthewstearn; a sister, Jacqueline Matthews; and a niece, Anne Jenkins, and her family.

Matthews’ papers will be preserved in the University of Illinois at Chicago Archives. Donations in his memory may be made in support of the archive. Checks should be payable to the UIC Library, with “Clifford Matthews Memorial for UIC Archives” in the memo and sent to Clifford Matthews Memorial for UIC Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, 801 S Morgan St, MC 234, Chicago, IL 60607

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