Nature 22

Richard Warren Fessenden

January 22, 1934 ~ February 11, 2020 (age 86)


Richard Warren Fessenden passed away peacefully on February 11, 2020 at Dujarie House, Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame. He was born in Northampton, MA, on January 22, 1934 to Bertha (Polley) and Richard William Fessenden.

He grew up in Amherst and North Amherst, Massachusetts, and graduated from Amherst High School and the University of Massachusetts. In 1959, after receiving his doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a post-doctoral year at the California Institute of Technology, he accepted a position as a fellow at the Mellon Institute Radiation Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA. That facility became part of Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) in 1967, and Richard became a professor of chemistry while continuing his research. When the Radiation Research Laboratories at CMU and University of Notre Dame merged in 1976, the Fessendens and several other families moved to South Bend. At Notre Dame, Richard became a professor of chemistry and associate director of the radiation laboratory, and he continued his research and guidance of graduate and post-doctoral students until his retirement in 1999.

He was the author of over 150 physical chemistry papers published in peer-reviewed journals and traveled widely to scientific conferences. In 1998, he was awarded the silver medal for chemistry by the International EPR (ESR) Society in Berlin, and in 2012, he was named recipient of the Zavoisky Award given by the Zavoisky Physical-Technical Institute in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.

In the paper presented at the Zavoisky awards ceremony, Richard stated, “I believe that many important discoveries have originated in the course of other specific research … This aspect of research we all recognize and it was well described by Joseph Priestly over 239 years ago: In completing one discovery, we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others, of which we could have no idea before, so that we cannot solve one doubt without creating several new ones.”

On June 8, 1957, Dick married his high-school sweetheart, Louise Cooley. Although science was important to him, he had other outside interests. From the time he was in graduate school, Dick developed a passion for birds. He and Louise enjoyed many birding trips in this country and others, and he was active in the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society. He enjoyed many camping trips with the family, and they covered much of the country with a little pop-up camper. After moving to South Bend, Dick discovered building and flying model airplanes and was a member of the Tri-Valley and the South Bend model airplane clubs. Quiet, good-natured and patient, he will be missed by many.

In addition to his wife, Louise, Richard leaves a brother, Robert M. Fessenden of Notre Dame, IN; a daughter, Carol Fessenden of Northbrook, IL; and a son, Robert G. (Elizabeth) Fessenden of Sharpsville, IN. He also leaves four grandsons of whom he was very proud: Adam Fessenden (fiancée Stephanie Orr) of Merrillville, IN; Jackson Fessenden of Omaha, NE; Keegan Fessenden of South Lake Tahoe, CA; and Parker (Erin) Fessenden of Boise, ID.

The family wishes to thank the nurses and aides in the Murphy Wing of Dujarie House for their compassionate care. Thanks also to Center for Hospice Care for their help in the last month.

Dick specifically stated that he did not want a formal funeral, so friends are invited to gather at André Place, Holy Cross Village, on Saturday, February 22, 2020 from 3:00-5:00 PM to share memories.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society, P.O. Box 581, Mishawaka, IN 46546; or the Holy Cross Village Foundation, P.O. Box 303, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Palmer Funeral Home—Hickey Chapel is assisting the family. Online condolences may be left for the Fessenden family at

To send flowers to the family, please visit our floral store.


Gathering of Family and Friends
February 22, 2020

3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Holy Cross Village
54515 IN-933
Notre Dame, IN 46556

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