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College of Arts and Sciences

Tom Ruttledge, retired chemistry lecturer, dies at 55

By: Linda B. Glaser
Cornell Chronicle
May 22, 2020

Tom Ruttledge, retired senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, in the College of Arts and Sciences, died May 19 in Ithaca. He was 55.

“Tom Ruttledge was a long-standing educator and mentor for students of all stages at Cornell,” said Brian Crane, the George W. and Grace L. Todd Professor in Chemistry and department chair. “He was someone who truly cared about our students and devoted a large portion of his life to serving them. Someone who was not afraid to share his opinion, Tom has left a lasting impact on our Cornell community.”

Born July 4, 1964, Ruttledge received his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. He had a postdoctoral appointment at Cornell (1992-93) in plant pathology, then taught at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washingon; Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana; and Ursinus College in Philadelphia.

Ruttledge first taught at Cornell during summer sessions, then as a visiting lecturer, before joining the faculty full time as a senior lecturer in 2007. He retired earlier this year.

The courses he taught included sophomore organic chemistry laboratory and advanced laboratory, as well as CHEM 1150: The Language of Chemistry, a chemistry course for non-science majors. In recent years he also taught the large sophomore CHEM 3580: Organic Chemistry.

“Tom was a gifted, inspiring and demanding teacher of chemistry and an amazingly kind and caring person,” said John Marohn, professor of chemistry, who was director of undergraduate studies during the five years Ruttledge was director of undergraduate advising.

“He talked so many of us through life’s large and small problems – students, staff and faculty alike – while helping us understand and appreciate our fellow humans better,” he said. “His door was always open, there were always mints in the jar, and he always had time for you. He is one of the people that made our department, and Cornell, a real community. He will be long remembered.”

Ruttledge received the Kendal S. Carpenter Memorial Advising Award in 2013 and the Stephen and Margery Russell Distinguished Teaching Award in 2017. He served as adviser to the professional chemistry fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma. For the past six years, he taught organic chemistry in the Cornell HHMI Advancing Medical Progress through Scholarship (CHAMPS) Program, working with nearly 100 students.

A world traveler, Ruttledge visited 73 countries in his lifetime. “He was well-known for his flamboyant style and love of regaling students with the stories of his world travels,” said Cynthia Kinsland, senior lecturer in chemistry. “However, behind the flashy façade he was indefatigable in fighting for causes he believed in.”

 He was particularly proud of his work with the CHAMPS program and the thousands of students he encouraged to achieve more than they thought possible. I have personally benefitted from his mentorship and I will miss having him as a sounding board.  Mostly, though, I’ll miss his rakish sense of humor and insistence on doing the right thing, even when it isn’t the easy thing,”

Dennis Nyanyo ’18, like many students, first encountered Ruttledge in his organic chemistry class. “Tom was probably the most influential professor/ friend I had at Cornell,” he said. “I could randomly walk into his office and he would make time to listen to me and share a story of his own. Tom emphasized the value of living a full life and stressed how important travel was for him...When we spoke last month, he told me about his plans to travel more during his retirement, and I yearned to see more pictures and hear more of his travel stories. I was saddened to hear of his passing; nonetheless, I am happy that he was able to live a full life.”

Ruttledge called himself one of the most avid bike riders in Ithaca, telling the Cornell Daily Sun in 2014 that he had biked more than 14,000 miles that year. Ruttledge was also known for his bold fashion choices, said Nyanyo. “He was either wearing a colorful jacket or a beautifully patterned shirt, or bracelet that he had got from one of his trips – anything but boring.”

Ruttledge is survived by his parents, Carol and Charles, along with six sisters and one brother. He was predeceased by a brother.

Those wishing to make a donation in Ruttledge’s name are asked to consider a gift to the Cleveland Museum of Art.