Brief Biography

Roger J. Williams, 1893-1988


Roger John Williams was born in Ootacumund, India, of American missionary parents on August 14, 1893. At age 2 his family returned to the U.S., where he grew up in Kansas and California. His formal education culminated in a Ph.D. degree (Magna Cum Laude) from the University of Chicago in 1919. He taught at the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and beginning in 1940, at the University of Texas at Austin. He authored several widely used textbooks of organic chemistry and biochemistry. He became Emeritus Professor of Chemistry in 1971 and retired that position in 1986 at age 92.

While studying the nutrition of yeast cells he discovered, isolated and made possible the synthesis of pantothenic acid, a universal B-vitamin needed by every cell in the human body. Later he concentrated folic acid, another B-vitamin, and gave it its name.

At the University of Texas he founded and directed the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute from 1940 to 1963 (now called the Biochemical Institute), when he retired from that position. More vitamins and their variants were discovered in this laboratory than in any other laboratory in the world.

Two of his outstanding books at his 1963 retirement as Director were The Human Frontier (Harcourt Brace, 1946) and Biochemical Individuality: The Basis for the Genetotrophic Concept (John Wiley & Sons, 1956; University of Texas Press, 1969 to 1979; Keats Publishing, 1998). The latter book was translated into Russian, Italian and Polish.

Following his retirement from the Directorship of the Institute, he concentrated on human nutrition as his central field of interest. His books, Alcoholism: The Nutritional Approach (Univ. of Texas Press, 1959 to 1978), Nutrition in a Nutshell (1962, Doubleday and Dolphin) and Nutrition Against Disease: Environmental Prevention (Pitman 1971, Bantam Books, 1973) were widely read. After his 80th birthday he continued to be actively involved, writing and editing several important books dealing with aspects of human nutrition and education. These include Physicians’ Handbook of Nutritional Science (C.C. Thomas, 1975), The Wonderful World Within You: Your Inner Nutritional Environment (Bantam Books, 1977, Bio-Communications Press 1987-1998), The Prevention of Alcoholism Through Nutrition (Bantam Books, 1981) and Rethinking Education: The Coming Age of Enlightenment (Philosophical Library, 1986).

Professor Williams was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was President of the American Chemical Society in 1957. He received honorary D.Sc. degrees from Columbia University, Oregon State University and University of Redlands, his Alma Mater. In 1941, for his discovery of pantothenic acid, he received the Mead Johnson Award of the American Institute of Nutrition and the Chandler Medal of Columbia University. In 1972 he served as a member of President Nixon’s Advisory Panel on Heart Disease.

Williams married Hazel Elizabeth Wood in 1916; they raised three children. After Hazel's death in 1952 he married Mabel Phyllis Hobson the next year. He was an avid fisher, golfer, walker and fan of University of Texas athletics. He died of pneumonia in an Austin nursing home on February 20, 1988 (age 94). He is buried in Austin Memorial Park. His papers are in the University of Texas archives.