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In Memoriam: Mary L. Good, a Legacy of Scientific Pursuit and Accomplishment

Mary L. Good accepts the Othmer Gold Medal in recognition of her broad career in chemistry, industrial research and public policy positions. | Science History Institute

Mary L. Good was an acclaimed chemist, academic, contributor to and leader of scientific organizations and scientific societies, private sector innovator and holder of posts in the administrations of four U.S. presidents. She died on Nov. 20 at her home in Little Rock, Arkansas at the age of 88.

Good realized a lifetime of scientific achievements, with many firsts and research that spanned the study of radiochemistry and applications for then nascent Global Positioning System technology to the development of hybrid gas-electric cars and related emerging technologies.

She became a member of  the American Chemical Society and was the first woman to be elected to its board. Good was elected to chair the ACS board in 1978 and again in 1980. Six years later, she was named president-elect, and in 1987 served as president of the society.

In 2001, Good was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. An elected AAAS Fellow, she was presented the AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize in 1998 for “outstanding achievements in education, research, R&D management, and public service spanning the academic, industrial, and government sectors.”

“Mary Good was a remarkable citizen of science and scientist citizen. She was a leader in each major sector of research and development – government, industry and academia – and held leadership positions for numerous scientific organizations and advisory groups. She was an outstanding AAAS president and helped bring the sectors together to work on common issues,” said Alan I. Leshner, interim CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

Good’s deep interests opened doors to leadership positions in the private sector, beginning at Universal Oil Products, Inc., a company that went through multiple ownership changes to become the Signal Research Center, Inc., an organization of hundreds of scientists and later called Allied-Signal Inc. During her tenure, Good held a range of leadership titles.

When the company became Allied-Signal Inc, she was tapped to be president and director of the Signal Research Center in 1985 and president of Allied-Signal Engineered Materials Research a year later. In time, she rose to become senior vice-president of technology, a post that put her in charge of three research centers.

Four U.S. presidents turned to her scientific knowledge and organizational skills, appointing her  to posts in their administrations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter named her chair of the board of the National Science Foundation, making her the first woman to hold the role.

President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the same position. President George H.W. Bush then appointed her to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

President Bill Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Department of Commerce to serve as under-secretary for technology to carry out a government-industry technology initiative that pressed for new research into “environmentally clean” cars such as hybrids.

It was during Good’s tenure at the Commerce Department that Kei Koizumi, a former visiting scholar in science policy at AAAS, was a student intern in Good’s office. “I’m truly saddened by Mary’s passing. I will never forget how she encouraged me to leave my internship early in order to take a science-policy internship which eventually led me to AAAS. It’s as if she knew we would meet again, when she became president of AAAS,” said Koizumi, noting that a decade and a half later they reconnected in Little Rock, Arkansas. “She gave me wise advice on how I could be an effective advocate for science in the Obama administration.”

Born into the Great Depression in Grapevine, Texas, her parents were both educators dedicated to sending their children to college. It was there that Good was introduced to chemistry, a topic that captured her full attention and led her to drop earlier plans to become a home economics teacher. In college, she pursued a double chemistry and physics major.

Encouraged by university professors, she attended graduate school on a fellowship at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she studied radiochemistry and became an atomic energy research assistant. She married a fellow graduate student, Bill Jewel Good, in 1952, and they would have two sons. Good earned a master’s degree in chemistry in 1953 followed by a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1955.

Soon after, Good became an assistant professor and directed a radiochemistry laboratory at Louisiana State University where she would go on to be named a Boyd Professor of Chemistry at the New Orleans campus, and later the Boyd Professor of Materials Science in the Division of Engineering Research at the Baton Rouge campus. She spent a quarter of a century in academia.

She was the recipient of many awards, including the American Chemical Society’s Priestley Medal in 1997, the Othmer Gold Medal in 1998 and the distinguished Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Foundation in 2004.

Beyond a full career, it is her lasting influence on people and impact on organizations that is remembered.

“It was under Mary’s leadership that we developed and adopted the mission statement and goals that currently guide AAAS’ work – Advancing Science, Serving Society,” said Shirley Malcom, AAAS senior advisor and director of SEA Change. “She reminded us all of the importance of innovation in our economy, of engineering within our areas of focus, and of the need to strengthen and diversify the STEM workforce to support that innovation.”


[Associated image: Wikimedia Commons]



Anne Q. Hoy

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