Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Bernard Mahoney was in his element teaching and advising students during his nearly four decades at Mary Washington.
When alumni learned he had passed away on May 9 of this year, tributes began pouring in, reflecting on his many attributes: his “laughing” Irish eyes, his delightful Boston brogue, his knack for making even the most challenging of courses fun. Most of all, they spoke of how he made an impact on their lives and livelihoods, cheering them on for years, even after they graduated.
“He was my catalyst to succeed,” says Amanda Bruch McNeil ’80, crediting Dr. Mahoney for helping launch her career in the oil and gas industry at a time when it welcomed few women. “Without him, I never would have pursued that dream.”
Dr. Mahoney came to Mary Washington, then the women’s college of University of Virginia, in 1965. He held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston College and a doctorate in physical chemistry through University of New Hampshire. He also earned several prestigious fellowships, including from Harvard Medical School, the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
At Mary Washington, he served as department chair, was instrumental in creating the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program, and helped design the Jepson Science Center. He became a distinguished professor, earned UMW’s Grellet C. Simpson Award, and was granted emeritus status upon his retirement in 2002.
Inspired by the impact her former professor had on her, Marilyn Shull Black ’69 made a significant gift in 2018 to establish the endowed Bernard L. Mahoney Student Research Fellowship, providing financial support to UMW students majoring in the sciences.
Dr. Mahoney “showed me how to make learning fun,” says Judy Farrell Bechtold ’69, who taught high school chemistry, making up electron dances and using mnemonic devices to teach the periodic table. “He was always great at explaining the material and helping you see the light.”
Amanda Bruch McNeil recalled how Dr. Mahoney conducted mock interviews for her when she was applying for her first job. Periodically, she’d reach out as she moved up through the ranks. “He’d always reply, telling me how proud he was.”
Kathye Baldwin Geary ’77 says he made the chemistry department a welcoming place and earned the respect of his students and colleagues.
“When I began my graduate program – which Dr. Mahoney helped me apply to – I felt like I already had such a strong foundation from Mary Washington,” says Kathye, who went on to teach elementary school and run a summer science academy for children.
Her friend, Kathy Diehl Hartman ’77, says he opened science majors up to the vast array of chemistry careers available to them. Throughout her 37 years studying cancer drugs at the National Institutes of Health, she always followed his advice.
“Dr. Mahoney encouraged us to take meticulous notes, to be able to prove our data and methodology,” she says. “His philosophy on turning in quality work and the reputation you gain from it carried me throughout my career.”
For more information about the Bernard L. Mahoney Student Research Fellowship in Science or other giving opportunities, please contact the Office of University Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-2059.