Remembering John LuttonGAMBIER, Ohio (May 12, 2009) John K. Lutton, a beloved professor of chemistry, died on Sunday in Knox Community Hospital after a battle with heart disease.
John, who was fifty-nine, joined the Kenyon faculty in July 1980. He lived in Gambier with his wife of thirty-eight years, Roberta, and was on sabbatical at the time of his death.
John was a biochemist with a commitment to interdisciplinary study and a prescient love of technology. His home was a lively venue for social gatherings, including Department of Chemistry events with senior students and their families, and a stage for meetings with department job candidates.
"He was considered the heart of the department," said James Keller, associate professor of chemistry and department chair. "He just had that character. He was kind of incredible. There were many facets to this guy."
John had a knack for teaching and an "incredible rapport" with students, Keller said, from "non-majors who didn't even want to venture into the science quad to our majors." He had served on the Health Professions Advisory Committee, helping students determine the best ways to prepare themselves for and apply to medical school.
One such student is Cathy Ulman '09 of Upper Arlington, Ohio, a chemistry major and former Summer Science Scholar who did research into Alzheimer's disease under John's supervision. "He completely made my experience at Kenyon," she said. "Everyone was trying to figure out their entire schedule around taking a class with him. He told stories. Everyone knows his stories. He kept it fun, like a family atmosphere.
"And he was so accessible," she said. "He would always say, 'Do you follow me?' "
John had an affinity for Asian and Asian-American students and was an early supporter of the Asian Students for International Awareness, according to Wendy Singer, Roy T. Wortman Professor of History and South Asian Studies. "ASIA has grown and developed and inspired other organizations since then," Singer said. "But I will always remember John for this early commitment to Asian and Asian-American students."
He was "well-loved" by all of his students, said Scott Cummings, associate professor of chemistry. "He was very generous with his passion for learning, his passion for chemistry. He was a biochemist and he was always great at making connections between chemistry and the things right in front of our noses every day."
John taught courses in general chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and advanced organic chemistry. His research interests focused on computational biochemistry, enzyme mechanisms, and pharmacokinetics. He was a leader in establishing the interdisciplinary Kenyon Program in Neuroscience. And John was widely known for introducing technology to teaching.
He was born in Tokyo, Japan, to John B. and Kazuko Lutton. He spent his early childhood with his father, who was in the military, living in Germany, California, and Washington. He considered his father's second wife, Olive Lutton, his mother.
He earned a bachelor's in chemistry at Pacific Lutheran University in 1971 and a doctorate in biochemistry in 1976 at Purdue University, where he was a graduate research and teaching assistant. Before joining Kenyon, John was a research associate at the University of Colorado Medical School and the University of North Carolina Medical School. He took sabbaticals in 1987, when he joined the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a research associate, and in 1995, when he took a turn as a visiting professor of chemistry at Ohio State University.
"He was one of the movers and shakers on this campus for high-level computing," Keller said. "This was way back. He was responsible for getting the cable from the main frame on campus to the science buildings. He was literally out there hooking us up line by line and bolting things together. He was quite a wizard at that.
"He was like a kid," Keller said. "He loved new technological wonders." John's enthusiasm for technology prompted him to create his department's first Web site and he set up wireless Internet access for his colleagues well before wireless service reached the rest of the campus.
His scholarly work was balanced by a rich family life and love for God, according to family members. He was an active member at Faith Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon and had served as congregational president. He had been a youth soccer coach, science tutor, and local campaign volunteer for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. He was also a Wiggin Street Elementary School volunteer and about a month ago did a chemistry demonstration with liquid nitrogen there.
His son, Michael Lutton, of Howard, Ohio, said, "To him, Kenyon wasn't just a job. It was a way of life and he felt honored to be part of the community on the Hill." Michael described his father as a tireless educator who considered his students his extended family. He was most proud of the construction of the new chemistry facilities and enjoyed giving tours.
"My dad was a wonderful educator, but he was an even better father and proud grandfather to my eight-year-old daughter, Mary, who often visited his office," Michael said. "He taught me the value of education. He gave so much to the whole family through his time, patience, and love."
John is survived by his wife, Roberta; son, Michael (Kristy) Lutton; granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth Lutton; father, John B. Lutton; brothers Robert (Rhona) Lutton and William (Crystal) Lutton; stepbrother, John Lutton; stepsister, Colleen (Al) Husch; and many nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews.
Friends may call on Thursday from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Flowers-Snyder Funeral Home, 619 East High St., Mount Vernon. A funeral service will be held on Friday at 10:00 a.m. at Faith Lutheran Church, 170 Mansfield Ave. A graveside service will be held at 1:00 p.m. in Oak Grove Cemetery in Gambier.