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Robert E. Eakin Endowed Centennial Scholarship

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The Robert E. Eakin Endowed Centennial Scholarship was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on June 11, 1982, for the benefit of the College of Natural Sciences. Gift funds were provided by Mrs. Esther Eakin Biesele of Austin, Texas, a 1941 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences. The endowment honors Dr. Robert E. Eakin of Austin, Texas, a 1942 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences.

Robert E. Eakin as a UT assistant professor of chemistry, 1946.
Robert E. Eakin as a UT assistant professor of chemistry, 1946.

Robert Edward Eakin was born on January 23, 1916 in La Grande, Oregon, the son of Robert Stowell Eakin, a local attorney, and Netta Kiddle Eakin. His paternal grandfather was the Chief Justice of the Oregon State Supreme Court and his maternal grandfather was an Oregon State Highway Commissioner, but his own career interests were never in the legal or political sphere.

When Eakin enrolled in a chemistry master’s degree program at Oregon State College he intended to become a physician. But his thesis advisor, Roger Williams, talked him into postponing medical school in lieu of a chemistry Ph.D.

Eakin came to the University of Texas in 1939 as a graduate student when Williams was recruited from Oregon State College to head the newly organized Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute in what was at that time the UT Department of Chemistry within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The vitamin and nutrition research he undertook in Williams’ UT lab became his calling rather then clinical work in medicine. After earning his Ph. D. he enrolled in the University of Cincinnati medical school but left after one semester.

Grad student Robert E. Eakin working in a UT chemistry laboratory, 1940.
Grad student Robert E. Eakin working in a UT chemistry laboratory, 1940.

Eakin received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1942. He served in research medical facilities for the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the War he returned to the UT Department of Chemistry as a member of its faculty.

Over the subsequent thirty years he taught undergraduate and graduate classes in biochemistry, ran a research program in developmental biochemistry in which many UT graduate students were trained, published his research results in scientific journals and books, and helped organize summer programs at UT and other Texas universities for gifted high school students.

Eakin married Esther Aline on October 13, 1940. He was a graduate student and Aline was a chemistry undergrad at UT. They raised four sons and their descendants now include six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Their family members have earned eleven degrees from UT, including four in chemistry and five in other areas of natural sciences.

Robert E. Eakin family in the front yard of their home, 1950; front row left to right: Pat, Tim; back row left to right: Esther, Robert E. holding baby Mike.
Robert E. Eakin family in the front yard of their home, 1950; front row left to right: Pat, Tim; back row left to right: Esther, Robert E. holding baby Mike.

Robert, Esther, two of his children, and a daughter-in-law have cumulatively provided over a century of service as employees of UT.

Though Eakin retired in 1976 he kept an office on campus and remained active in the university community until his death in 1979. Many of Eakin’s graduate students kept in touch with him long after they earned their degrees, sending him Christmas cards and visiting him when they returned to Austin.

Robert E. Eakin with his children and his mother, 1968; front row left to right: Kelly Eakin, Netta Eakin; back row left to right:  Mike, Pat, Robert E., Tim.
Robert E. Eakin with his children and his mother, 1968; front row left to right: Kelly Eakin, Netta Eakin; back row left to right: Mike, Pat, Robert E., Tim.

Eakin’s eldest son, Tim, who is also a scientist, says his father was a constant mentor and motivator, keeping him on track through high school and college. The elder Eakin helped his son set a strategic plan for his time as a UT undergraduate, helping him select electives and instructors, paving the way for Tim’s acceptance into the competitive graduate program that lead to a rewarding career in science.

Tim says of his father:

My father impacted my life in the usual ways that parents influence the lives of their children, but in addition he was a continual academic mentor and motivator for me all during the time that I was growing up. As I was going through the Austin public school system he made certain that I stayed on track for getting into college and graduate school and that I would be well prepared for surviving the rigorous demands of the higher education experience. While I was a UT undergraduate he helped me set up and get through a strategic plan of selecting specific electives and particular instructors, paving the way for my acceptance into a quite competitive graduate program, which in turn gave me the opportunity to have an interesting and satisfying career in science.

My mother received many letters of condolence from my father's former students after his death, within which were several statements concerning the influence that he had had on their lives. More than a quarter century later my mother would still get yearly holiday correspondence from some of them.

Robert E. Eakin late in his career (right) with his oldest son Tim (left), 1968.
Robert E. Eakin late in his career (right) with his oldest son Tim (left), 1968.

Half a century later people still contact Tim about Eakin’s prescient realization that ribonucleotide cofactors were likely to have been early catalysts in the evolution of metabolism, a view expounded in a seminal paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1963.

The initial funding of the Robert E. Eakin Centennial Endowment was through a gift from Esther Aline Eakin in 1982 as part of the UT Centennial capital campaign. Income from the endowment is used exclusively to provide scholarship support for students enrolled in graduate programs within the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Awards are made only through that department and at the discretion of that department on an ad hoc basis as sufficient funds in the endowment’s associated interest account accrue.

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