Richard (Dick) Stein
Richard (Dick) S. Stein, 95, passed away peacefully in his Amherst home on June 21, 2021 surrounded by his loving family and caregivers throughout his final days. He was born in Far Rockaway, NY in 1925. Dick received his B.S. from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, his Master’s Degree and Ph.D. from Princeton, and his post-doc from Cambridge University. He married his late wife Judith Balise Stein in 1951, raised four daughters, and enjoyed a beautiful marriage of nearly 70 years before Judy’s passing in 2019.
Dick’s prestigious career spans a tenure of more than 40 years as one of the most revered professors at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His many achievements have earned him recognition as a pioneer in his field. He has over 400 publications, multiple published books, and served as Emeritus Goessmann Professor in Chemistry at UMass. He has received three honorary doctorates and was a member of the First Delegation in Chemistry to the People’s Republic of China. In a report compiled for the Department of History at UMass, Dick is described as one of the most influential contributors to the development of the University’s research. Dick was a co-founder of the UMass Computing Center and is one of only a handful of individuals to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences (’91), the National Academy of Engineering (’92), and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (’92). Inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1996, Dick was chosen for his innovative research and his dedication to his students. Throughout his career, Dick’s commitment and dedication to his students consistently spread beyond his time in the classroom, office, or lab. In 1999, the Materials Research Society conferred on him its highest honor, the Von Hippel Award. In 2014 Dick was presented with a certificate of Congressional Recognition for his outstanding service to UMass and to the community and in 2015, Senator Rosenberg presented him with an official Joint House Senate resolution recognizing his many accomplishments and contributions to the Commonwealth.
Dick is described as a path-breaking researcher who expanded knowledge related to his field by forging lasting collaborations across disciplines and promoting the cross-pollination of ideas. Perhaps most notable of these achievements was the revolutionary founding of the Polymer Science Research Institute and serving as a driving force behind the establishment of both the Polymer Science and Engineering Program and the Silvio O. Conte National Center for Polymer Research at the University of Massachusetts. Truly, he helped to bring into existence and define the entire field of Polymer Science and is respected both nationally and abroad as one of his generation’s most prominent scientific minds. Dick however, would describe his contributions much more humbly, highlighting his way of making humanity’s understanding of polymers accessible to everyone from the scientist to your average person. Nothing would excite him more than helping anyone who would listen to see the magic and mystery in the ordinary miracle of molecular innovation that is present in something as simple as a sneaker sole or television.
After Dick’s retirement his work has continued on through his students and colleagues who are dedicated to carrying on his life’s work. You don’t have to search very far to find a mind or heart touched by the passion, intelligence, creativity, or path forging nature of Richard Stein. Dick had a way of seeing the world that inspired and transformed the minds of everyone he met. He was always striving for excellence both within himself and others, and consistently inspired the impossible and catalyzed growth everywhere he went. Dick passionately believed in the good ideas of everyone he knew, empowering all of us to do the brave, hard work of following our passions and callings. Dick has inspired countless individuals to believe in out of the box ideas and forge a path where one may never have existed before. There are so many of us who would not be where we are today without Dick’s influence and generosity, or his belief in our ability to make the world a better place.
Dick’s love of science dates back to childhood and his high school days spent experimenting in his home laboratory. Dick’s lifelong friend Chester describes Dick “like the wizard Merlin, he would mix these magic chemicals together and create all kinds of weird reactions.” Dick’s full life of teaching and traveling brought him to every corner of the world. He experienced the local cultures and brought his scientific mind, innovative research, and teaching to many countries including Japan, China, Russia, United Arab Emirates, India, Sweden, England, France, Germany, and Italy. Among his more memorable trips was the opportunity to bring the whole family to Japan, spending six months as a Fulbright Professor at Kyoto University.
Throughout his life, Dick’s passion for the advancement of humanity has driven his active involvement in local and national politics. Dick could often be found writing letters to the editor, reaching out to legislators, and meeting regularly with our local politicians. Post-retirement Dick described his greatest contribution to humanity as his work to advance solutions to global climate change. He was a co-organizer of the UMass contribution to the National Teach-In for Global Warming Solutions and in 2011 co-authored his final book “The Energy Problem” with the late Joseph Powers, representing years of dedication to finding innovative solutions to Climate Change. Joe was one of Dick’s earliest students and was both a dear friend and significant influence on Dick’s teaching, writing, and professional career. Dick’s involvement in the development and advancement of Biochar was one of his most passionate projects in the later years of his life and he was a founder of the Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative. During his work with Biochar he developed a deep bond with his dear friend Ted, who over the years become like a brother, and continues to be cherished as a member of the family.
At the center of Dick’s values was his desire to leave the world a better place whether through making revolutionary advancements in the field of science or tackling large-scale issues like climate change. Dick’s innovative and unstoppable nature has earned him recognition as one of our time’s most influential minds. While none of us alone can save this precious world, all who knew Dick certainly know that he is a man who did his part, and he will forever be remembered for the enduring contributions he has made.
While not traveling, researching, or teaching, Dick would spend summers with the family at their cottage on Lake Wyola, swimming, sailing his catamaran, and enjoying the quiet stillness. There was always an open door, an extra bed, and a meal to share for the friends, colleagues, students, and family they would host at the lake house. Sharing the things he loved most about life was always one of Dick’s greatest joys. Dick was always ready with an inspiring story to tell of folks he had met and places he had seen. But no matter how serious the story, his wit and humor would always shine through. Even the most innocent of stories was likely to end with an expertly delivered punch line highlighting his love of puns.
In his later years, Dick touched all of our hearts as he took on the new role of providing care for Judy through the end of her life, exposing a tender side that was not always seen. Dick’s final years were spent at home with his wife, lovingly cared for by his family and a team of phenomenal caregivers. A special thank you to the Hospice of the Fisher Home team for their support and guidance and his caregiver Cynthia who stepped in when the family initially needed additional support. Through her dedication to their care, she enabled Dick and Judy to remain in their home throughout their final years. He is survived by his children Anne Stein and husband Monty Kroopkin of San Diego, Carol Avonti and husband Steve of West Springfield, Lisa Lesure and husband Walter of Amherst, and son-in-law Darrel Rost of Pittsfield, six grandchildren: Faith Stein, Kristen Avonti, Rick Avonti, Mariah Lesure, Kayla Lesure, and Taylor Lesure, 5 great grandchildren, many nieces, nephews, and extended family. In addition, he leaves behind his dear friends Chester Roistacher and Ted Wysocki, both of whom were like brothers to him and deeply treasured friends. In addition, he leaves behind countless students and colleagues who had become like family to him over the years. He joins his late wife Judith Stein, his late sister Marge Manheimer, and his late daughter Linda Rost.
Williamsburg Funeral Home in Haydenville, was entrusted with his cremation. A Memorial services with be held in Amherst, MA at the UMass Campus Center (Marriot Center – 11th Floor) on July 8, 2021. Arrival begins at 2:00 pm. Services begin at 3:00 pm, with refreshments to follow. Parking is available in the Campus Center Parking Garage. Donations in his honor may be made to the “Dr. Richard and Judith Stein Endowed Fund” for Sustainability and Renewable Energy established in 2010. Donations in his honor may be sent to: Records and Gifts Processing, UMass Amherst, 143 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003.