Chemistry Professor, University Icon Malcolm Renfrew Remembered

Tuesday, October 15 2013

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho community lost an exemplary chemist, teacher, mentor and friend with the passing of Professor Emeritus Malcolm MacKenzie Renfrew. Renfrew died Oct. 12, his 103rd birthday, at his Moscow home. 

Renfrew leaves a legacy at the university spanning more than eight decades, from his first foray into academia as a young man to his later years as a dedicated supporter of science, art and interdisciplinary activities across campus.

“Malcolm Renfrew earned national acclaim as a groundbreaking scientist, but his mind had a Renaissance reach across disciplines, and his heart was filled with human warmth,” said U-Idaho interim president Don Burnett. “He and his late wife Carol – with whom he shared 71 years of married life – were treasures of our university community. We shall never forget them.”       

Renfrew began his relationship with U-Idaho as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1932, followed by a master’s in 1934. After earning his doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota, he launched his career in polymer chemistry at DuPont, where he supervised the group that developed wartime uses for a material later known as Teflon.

Renfrew returned to U-Idaho in 1958 as the head of the physical sciences department, and later the chemistry department. His leadership led to expanded research and academic offerings, as well as construction of a new physical sciences building. The university dubbed the building Malcolm M. Renfrew Hall in 1985, in honor of his 75th birthday.  

Renfrew retired in 1976, but his dedication to the university never waned. Renfrew and his wife, Carol Campbell Renfrew – a fellow U-Idaho graduate whom he met while they were students – were fixtures at campus events. She died in 2010 at the age of 96.

Malcolm Renfrew remained involved in the sciences, volunteering as university patent director for 10 years and serving as safety editor for the Journal of Chemical Education. He also honed his artistic side, creating watercolor paintings of Moscow’s buildings and landscapes and playing the trombone in local bands.

Over the years, Malcolm and Carol Renfrew received numerous university awards and honors. The Malcolm M. Renfrew Interdisciplinary Colloquium, which brings together speakers and students from across campus, and the Malcolm and Carol Renfrew College of Science Faculty Fellowship Endowment, which supports faculty members who excel at research and serve as mentors for their students, were named in the couple’s honor. The Renfrews also contributed to student scholarships and endowments to support departments and programs across campus. 

“Professor Malcolm Renfrew was revered because he exemplified all that was best about academia in general and the University of Idaho specifically,” said Katherine Aiken, U-Idaho’s interim provost. “He was intellectually inquisitive, devoted to the arts, and unfailingly supportive of colleagues and students. The last time I saw him in public he joined in the singing of the Alma Mater. I will remember him fondly whenever I attend any event at the University of Idaho.”

Memorial services for Malcolm Renfrew will be 2 p.m. Oct. 28 at the First Presbyterian Church in Moscow, where he had served in leadership.


Media Contacts: Tara Roberts, University Communications, (208) 885-7725,; Andrea Thomas, University Communications – North, (208) 292-1401,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit