The bond between William Dolbier and UF is not easy to break.
In 1966, Dolbier joined UF, and he’s been here ever since.
Dolbier, UF’s longest-employed professor, almost didn’t become a professor at all. With tempting job offers from companies like Procter & Gamble Co., Dolbier said it would have been easy to join the private sector. But he wanted to teach and conduct research, so at age 26, he accepted his first professor position at UF.
Dolbier has been with UF for 51 years, and the 78-year-old continues to work as in the Department of Chemistry today.
“I didn’t come here because it was Florida or anything, I came here because it was the best opportunity for me at a Ph.D. granting institution,” he said. “Originally, I was willing to go anywhere in the country to do that.”
As he began his tenure as an assistant professor, Dolbier also began his research program studying hydrocarbons in physical organic chemistry.
He figured if his research didn’t work out, he’d find another job. If it went well, he would stay in his career.
“I figured it was worth a six-year part of my life to give it a try,” he said.
He said research and teaching ended up being his strong suits. He enjoyed the bonds he developed with students who entered his classroom and office over the years.
“I can remember sitting here in my third or fourth year and my research program was starting to blossom, thinking that ‘I can’t believe they pay me to do this, it’s so much fun,’” he said.
From receiving honors from organizations like the American Chemical Society, to meeting people from across the globe and helping countries like Colombia set up graduate programs, Dolbier said his fondest memories are of where his research has taken him.
Eventually, Dolbier figured his research needed to evolve in order for his career to continue. Funding for his project at the time had run up. In the mid-1970s, he decided to try other avenues.
“I got turned down a couple of times,” Dolbier said. “I thought, ‘Is this the end of my career as a researcher?’”
Dolbier sat down and brainstormed new ideas. He decided to try to understand the reactivity of fluoride compounds and said he’s never looked back since.
Fluorine is an atom with an important impact on the bioactivity of a molecule, he said. It has been recognized within the last 20 to 30 years and is now in about 25 to 30 percent of all pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals.
Dolbier’s research helped develop the methodology for getting fluorine into molecules. This helps researchers have a better chance of developing products like anti-cancer agents. One of his former graduate students is working on an anti-cancer drug in a California lab using what he learned from the research.
Miles Rubinski, one of Dolbier’s current graduate research students, said Dolbier doesn’t realize that his legacy reaches farther than UF.
“All I can do is graduate from here, but moving forward, wherever I go next, that’s where his legacy will go,” Rubinski said. “Whatever accomplishments I end up having will be partly his as well.”
David Richardson, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, met Dolbier as an assistant professor in 1983. He said he admires Dolbier as a colleague, a researcher and a professor. As an incoming junior faculty member, Dolbier’s advice made an impact on Richardson.
“I can still remember advice that he gave to me over 30 years ago that still resonates today and that I’ve passed on to my colleagues since that time,” Richardson said. “His message was to learn the individual strengths and personalities of your graduate students and then design their research projects to maximize their chances of success.”
Richardson still gives that advice to his colleagues today, passing on Dolbier’s message.
He said he thinks everyone should adopt Dolbier’s balanced demeanor.
“In times that called for joy, (Dolbier) was happy. In times that called for anger, he was calm, and that character is one that we all would do well to remember,” Richardson said.