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HYMAN D. GESSER  Obituary pic


Born: Apr 24, 1929

Date of Passing: Dec 22, 2014

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HYMAN D. GESSER April 24, 1929- December 22, 2014 Professor Hyman "Hymie" Gesser, Ph.D. died peacefully in the early morning hours on December 22, 2014, at the Riverview Health Center. Hymie is survived by his devoted wife Esther, sons Isaac (Natasha) and Avi (Brook), daughter Sarah (Jeff) and grandchildren Amber, Courtney, Sadie, Lexi and Mae. The son of a house painter, Dr. Gesser received a Ph.D. in Chemistry from McGill University on full scholarship in 1952. He and Esther met in Montreal, in 1951, and they spent 62 glorious years married to each other, loving each other, and traveling the world as invited guests due to the great interest in Dr. Gesser's work. He served as a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba for over 40 years, where he gained the status of Professor Emeritus in 1997. During his long career, Dr. Gesser published hundreds of academic papers, wrote several text books, filed more than a dozen patents, appeared in local newspapers several times a year on scientific issues, and won various awards for his research. He presented on his research work at conferences around the globe, including Russia, Japan, Israel, and Australia. His inventions include a form of extended wear contact lenses, a paint that allows boats to go significantly faster, and an irrigation system that allows plants to drink water only when they need it. Dr. Gesser also volunteered his time to teach science to young children by performing science-magic shows at various community events. He was a notorious pack-rat, who kept virtually every piece of paper he read. At his office, the papers were piled so high on his desk that he could not be seen behind them. Because he worried that people would knock over his pile when looking for him, he installed a mirror that hung directly over his head at a 45 degree angle so he could see people coming and they could see when he was not in. Many of his students will remember having conversations with an inverted image of the top of his head. Hymie will be sorely missed by his family, friends, former students, and all who were fortunate enough to experience his brilliant mind, mischievous smile, terrible suits, and the infectious thrill of discovery that he constantly exhibited. A special thank you to the staff at Grace Hospital (3 South) and the Riverview Health Center (3 West), who made his last few weeks comfortable and dignified. Like his scientific discoveries, Dr. Gesser will live on in the many lives he touched with his humour, generosity and passion. A service has taken place on December 23. In lieu of flowers, donations in Hymie's memory can be made to Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun Synagogue, 620 Brock Street, Winnipeg, MB, Canada or a charity of your choice.
Publish Date: Dec 27, 2014

HYMAN D. GESSER April 24, 1929 - December 22, 2014 Funeral services to be held Tuesday, December 23 at 2:30 p.m. at Chesed Shel Emes at 1023 Main Street with burial to follow at the Hebrew Sick Cemetery (2605 McPhillips Street). Longer obituary to follow.
Publish Date: Dec 23, 2014

As published in Winnipeg Free Press on Dec 27, 2014

Condolences & Memories (11 entries)

  • Grandpa was an amazing man. Whenever I needed help on my homework he would help me. Even though he lived far away I still loved him. - Posted by: Courtney Gesser (Granddaughter ) on: Feb 15, 2016

  • My condolences to the Gesser family during this difficult time. I'm so sorry to hear about Hymie. I did the odd glass job for him here at work. He would stop in on a regular basis. As he'd tap my door with his cane and say "I'm here to see my favorite Glassblower!" "Hymie?" I'd say...."I'm the only glassblower you know?". Ha..ha....I will greatly miss that. My thoughts and best wishes to you all. - Posted by: Lesa Cafferty (Work) on: Jan 05, 2015

  • When I joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba in 1993, Hymie was a fixture. It seemed that he had always been there, had done everything, knew everybody. If you needed a screw or a valve, Hymie had it - and despite the chaos of his lab and office he usually could find it too. He was passionate about science, but Hymie never had the kind of narrow focus that too often accompanies such passion. Hymie was a tinkerer by nature, a kind of scientist that is unfortunately out of style these days. And yet, Hymie was always thinking about practical applications, never one to get lost in dreams. His colleagues may occasionally have complained about his tendency to hoard odd bits of apparatus, but Hymie was always respected and liked. He will be missed. - Posted by: Phil Hultin (Colleague) on: Jan 05, 2015

  • I remember my Uncle Hymie. Visiting his young nephews in Montreal, always bearing gifts as we frantically searched his jacket pockets, Hymie laughing with delight. Uncle Hymie the professor, who inspired me to become a professor. Uncle Hymie the world traveller, with sabbaticals in Israel, and students worldwide, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, and beyond, inviting him and Auntie Esther to lecture and share. Uncle Hymie the inventor, patenting better contact lenses, paints, and a process to allow thirsty tomato plants to drink for themselves. Uncle Hymie trying to ride a tandem bike in his late sixties, narrowly escaping catastrophe by tumbling onto a lawn, at our son's bar mitzvah. Uncle Hymie who delighted in his children's achievements, who never said no to a good meal, and who had the most wonderful, mischievous and infectious smile. Uncle Hymie and Auntie Esther who ensured that I never felt alone when my own parents passed away far too young. A loving husband, father, brother, grandfather, and uncle and great-uncle. A uniquely creative and generous spirit whose passing saddens all of us. With love, Allen & Daphne. - Posted by: Allen Ponak (Nephew) on: Jan 02, 2015

  • I was very sad to hear from a friend in Winnipeg that Hymie passed away. For several reasons, Hymie was the most influential person in my scientific career. He had an incredibly wide scientific knowledge, was totally dedicated to science and his students, and his unique M.Sc. idea for me gave me enormous confidence and inspiration. He could be very demanding, but his incredibly open, frank and often humorous manner was very positive for me and many others. I will always remember him with great affection. - Posted by: Mike Bancroft (Student (Undergrad and M.Sc. 1964) and post-doc 1967) on: Jan 02, 2015

  • I am very sorry to hear of Dear Hymie‚Äôs passing away. He has had a very special place in my heart and mind. He was the first Canadian Chemist/professor (outside the AECL laboratory at Pinawa where I worked, and the University of Alberta where I went to graduate school) who regarded that I had something to offer as a chemist. He contacted me late in 1966 or early 1967 to ask me if he could spend some time in the summer to do a project with me on my new flash photolysis equipment. It turned out to be a useful and enjoyable collaboration. I came to regard him as a scientist full of imagination, full of appropriate scientific questions, very energetic, and a very warm and friendly person. In addition to being a renowned chemist, he was a very practical person with great regard for, and understanding of, other human beings. He will always remain in my memory. I offer my heart-felt condolences to his family. Ajit Singh - Posted by: Ajit Singh (Friend; Collaborator) on: Dec 31, 2014

  • We had very similar views about how things should be explored and why but we had a constant challenge when it came to how the lab and office should be maintained. When he was away on sabbatical in Israel I had the opportunity to have both looking as though they were new and unused. The desk was clear except for phone and inbox when he returned. I suspect he never fully forgave me for that. - Posted by: Ernest R. Zabolotny (I was Hyman's first graduate student at the U of M) on: Dec 30, 2014

  • Sincere condolences to the Gesser family. I was one of Hymie's last Ph.D. students (finally graduated in 2000). I am glad you included the mirror story -I still tell it myself now and then. My first encounter with Hymie took place via that special mirror. I heard a mysterious voice from someone I couldn't see, but who obviously knew I was there. Then I saw the top of his head.... He was a man of many interests whose mind was racing all the time. I struggled to keep his attention for more than 30 seconds at a time. He was challenging, but always a real gentleman. - Posted by: Jamie Noel (Former Ph.D. student) on: Dec 28, 2014

  • He was just a great big teddy bear of a guy who made chemistry so much more understandable to this very, very humble student. I remember his office well....little frightening the first time in there with all those papers! But he was a master and I am ever so blessed to have had him in my life. My deepest sympathy to his family. - Posted by: Sidney Macaw (former student) on: Dec 27, 2014

  • Eulogy given for Professor H. Gesser on December 23, 2014 I'd like to thank everyone for coming today and to apologize on behalf of my father to those of you for whom the news of his death came as a shock. You did not know that my father had been sick in the hospital for several weeks, and that both his physical and mental health had been steadily deteriorating, because he did not want you to know. Dad loved to help people, but he didn't like being helped or being vulnerable or letting people know when he was scared, and especially, he didn't like people making a fuss over him. So you didn't know and, on his behalf, I apologize for that. Well dad, I'm going to make a little fuss over you right now, and there's nothing you can do anymore to stop me. My father was a man from a very different generation. Born in the 1920s, he spoke Yiddish, lived through the depression and WW2. His father, my grandpa Reuben, was a house painter, who couldn't work in the winters because of the cold, so money was very tight. But my dad was really smart and hard working, and without any academic role model, he managed to get a full scholarship to do a chemistry Ph.D. at McGill, and gave some of that money to his sisters so they could attend college too. My aunt Gerty became a nurse and my aunt Sarah a bookkeeper. In his early 20s he met my mom, fell in love, got married and they spent almost every single day together, yelling at each other, supporting each other, and loving each other, through everything, for 62 years, until yesterday. My parents came to Winnipeg because dad got a job teaching chemistry at the university of Manitoba, where we was a professor for almost 50 years. During that time he published hundreds of academic papers, wrote several text books, filed more than a dozen patents, appeared in the local newspapers several times a year, and won various awards. He was constantly being invited to present on his latest work at conferences, and he and my mom went everywhere as honored guests because of his achievements and his willingness to share them with anyone was interested: Russia, Japan, Australia, Israel, and so on. As kids, that's how we went on vacation: New Orleans, Florida, Hawaii, we toured around with mom, and dad joined when he could, between giving talks on non-catalytic conversion of methane to methanol, or hydrophilic semi-permiable membranes, and other things that few people could understand. His work was, like him, all over the place. Chaotic. It covered many different disciplines, often at the same time. Some of it was highly theoretical, some educational, some mundane but useful. He invented extended wear contact lenses. A paint that made boats go 10 percent faster, an irrigation system that allowed plants to drink water only when they needed it. And he gave them all away for little or nothing. I used to get angry at my dad for being so good at science and so bad at business, but as I grew older I came to understand him a little better and see it for what it really was. He wanted to do what he loved. To think big thoughts, to spend time with his family, to teach young men and woman about science, to solve problems and to make the world a better place. And he was always at it. At my soccer games, he'd watch when I was on the field, and work when I was on the sidelines. He'd make us bring him a paper and pen in the bath sometime when he got a great idea that couldn't wait. He made his own wine, not that he liked wine, but he was interested in the science of it all, and many of you received undrinkable bottles of his homemade wine on special occasions, and for that I also apologize on his behalf. He fixed everything himself, because he liked to know how things worked -- the car, the dishwasher, whatever. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he failed, but he always tried and never ever lost faith in his own intellect and determination. He was one of the greatest problem solvers I've ever met and I will always be grateful for the privilege of seeing his brilliant mind attack a problem from all sides, turn it around, break it apart, and eventually crack it. No problem was too big or too small for him to try solve. As a kids, there was something very powerful in knowing that my dad was always the smartest guy in the room, and he always was. If he made a little money along the way, great. But he hated spending time with lawyers and reading contracts. And he trusted everyone, sometimes more than they deserved. But he was secretly happy not to have got rich from his inventions. He would not have known was to do with the money and would have worried too much that the money would cause his kids to have lost our way, and, like with most things, he was probably right about that. There are so many great stories about my dad. I remember insincerely complimenting my dad on a particularly awful suit that he wore to class one day (I took his class) and he got that big smile he used to get and proudly declared that he got it at the Big 4, which was a thrift shop. They were having a special and he got a suit and a sandwich for 5 dollars. He was making good money at that point and could have afforded a much better suit, but he couldn't ever manage to spend money on himself. At his office, the papers were piled so high on his desk that you couldn't see him. He worried that people would knock them over looking for him, so he installed a mirror that hung directly over his head at a 45 degree angle so he could see you coming and you could see when he was not in. I had many long conversations with an inverted image of the top of my father's head. They once shut down his lab as a hazard using a lab safety handbook that he wrote. One violation was a lack of fire extinguishers by the door. He told the inspector that he was being silly, if he's by the door, he can run to safety. He needed the fire extinguisher in the back so he could fight his was out of a corner. "Why not get two extinguishers," the inspector asked? "Because I spend my money on science" was the reply that was met with a closure notice. One last story. When I was around 10 my father took me to his lab. And I was always asking to use the glass blowing equipment. He finally gave in. There was a big sign overhead that read "Hot Glass Is Hot" and he warned me several times not to touch the glass once we got started. But I was 10 and after a few minutes my little dinosaur was all deformed and I instinctively reached out to fix it, and he watched as I burned my fingertips. He didn't try to stop me. I've gone over this story many times wondering why he let that happen. But today, I think I finally get it. He grew up in a tough time, and he wanted to me to discover the world on my own. To experience the consequences of my actions, to be responsible for my decisions, and to know that, even though he wanted to, he couldn't always be there to protect me, and I believe that I am the man I am today, in large part because of that tough lesson. It was hard for all of us, but especially for him, to watch as his brilliance slowly slipped away in recent months. But he was still dad. Still playful. Joking with the nurses. Mischievous. Poking fun. To the end, the boy with the chemistry set who never lost of the thrill and joys of discovery. I need to thank my sister Sarah and my brother-in-law Jeff for shouldering the vast majority of the burden these past few years, and with Sarah especially, last few months with dad. Taking my mother to the hospital. Dealing with doctors. Putting her own life on hold to help the family through this difficult time. Sarah, I love you and I can't thank you enough for making dad's last few months as good as they could possibly have been for all of us. We were all here in August, before my dad got really sick, and that is how I prefer to remember him. Happy. Proud. Stubborn. Still working on his novel about a chemist who get tangled up with the mob. Thinking about ways to improve a patent he filed 20 years ago. Thrilled to see his grandkids and my wife Brook, whom he loved as a daughter and was always so proud of, wanting to do science experiments with Sadie and Mae in the basement lab, which somebody should have shut down years ago. He was an exceptional man of science and his contributions to chemistry will live long after him. But he was also a great husband, dad, granddad, uncle, teacher, friend, and member of the community, and that too will live on for years to come in all of us. We love you dad, we miss you, and we thank you for all you did for us. - Posted by: Avi Gesser (Son) on: Dec 27, 2014

  • My condolences to Esther and the Gesser family. Hymie was my professor in first year, then a colleague and a friend as the years went by. - Posted by: Elaine Thompson (Former student) on: Dec 25, 2014

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