William H. “Doc” Pirkle of Champaign, passed away April 6th at his home surrounded by family.
Friends may greet the family and celebrate Bill's life on Thursday, April 12 from 5-7 pm at Owens Funeral Home, 101 N. Elm St., Champaign.
William was born May 2nd, 1934 in Shreveport LA to John Pirkle and Mary Gott. He is survived by his wife Lauren Pirkle, and their two children Matthew Pirkle of Sterling Heights, MI and Rachel Pirkle of Champaign, IL.
He has four children from his previous marriage to the late Danielle Pirkle. Arlen Sheila Keane of Champaign, IL, Will Mosare of Madison, WI, Jill Pirkle of Champaign, IL, and Indi Mage of Hawaii.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents and brother Dwayne.
Bill spent most of his childhood in Oakdale, CA in the scenic San Juaquin Valley. Growing up on a dairy farm, milking cows at dawn and after school inspired him to pursue higher education. He spent summers working in a peach cannery to support himself through college.
An Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Bill realized his passion for chemistry during his sophomore year at the University of California, Berkeley. At the time, he was majoring in engineering, but was required to take a course in general chemistry. He found the subject interesting and elected to take a course in organic chemistry. After that, he was hooked. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Rochester in 1963. He then held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Harvard University in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate E.J. Corey.
Bill began his career at the University of Illinois in 1964. Over the years he advised and mentored some 60 Ph.D. students. His lab was filled with equipment he built by hand using commonly found items such as pressure cookers. Not wanting to be wasteful, he would often repurpose discarded items. His colleagues jokingly referred to his lab as the “Pirkle Zoo”. Matthew and Rachel consider themselves part of the Pirkle Zoo for all the time they spent in the lab playing computer games, performing their own experiments, and walking across the quad to Garcia’s for lunch.
Bill developed a systematic method for using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to determine the relative amounts of enantiomers in a chiral mixture. His work also made possible the chromatographic separation of enantiomers dissolved in a solution containing chiral solvating agents- one of the earliest was Pirkle’s Alcohol. The Pirkle Column and his other innovations have useful applications for the pharmaceutical, herbicide, and pesticide industries. He travelled the world speaking on his research. Over the course of his career, he authored 249 publications and held 10 patents.
In his spare time and after retirement, Bill’s hobbies included flying model airplanes, gardening, woodworking, cooking, and baking.
Bill and Matthew spent many hours building and flying model airplanes. Another favorite activity they had was attending the annual Insect Fear Film Festival on campus and sampling deep fried worms.
In the garden, Bill and Rachel would tend to the many fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. Always educating, he would quiz her on the names of plants and insects. Bill enjoyed sharing the bounty of his extensive garden with his neighbors.
Bill converted his garage into a wood shop where he taught himself woodworking and furnished his home with the mission style furniture he built.
His family delighted in fresh baked bread hot from the oven. Many creative dinners made with fresh vegetables from the garden were enjoyed with family and friends.
Bill was part of a close-knit neighborhood, which includes longtime friends Kenny and Ella Simmons, Randy and Patti Swim, and Dave and Sue Hart. These neighbors and others worked with the City of Champaign to initiate the construction of the West Washington Water Shed Project. Bill received a service award from the City of Champaign for these efforts.
Next door neighbor, Lokman, fondly referred to his friend as “Uncle Bill”. They enjoyed many long conversations over tea covering such topics as US and world politics, religion, and the culture of Lokman’s home country Turkey. Lokman would often appear at front door with a special dish in hand from his homeland.
A lifelong educator, Bill loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for learning with his family and friends, usually with a mug of tea in hand. Bill was well loved and will be greatly missed.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Champaign Parks Foundation in support of planting trees in our local parks or United Way of Champaign County.
Champaign Parks Foundation
United Way of Champaign County