By Ann McMaster
After devoting his professional career and much of his personal time since the 1970s to George Washington University, it is unsurprising to his legion of admirers that Chemistry Professor Emeritus Michael King’s final contribution to the university will continue his unflagging efforts beyond his lifetime.
Dr. King and his wife, Linda, are including generous bequests in their estate plans that will further his priorities: accelerating a path to preeminence within GW’s Chemistry Department and bolstering the family’s spiritual home on campus.
The Michael, Linda and Jacob King Endowed Professorship in Organic Chemistry will one day support an endowed faculty position, considered to be substantive recognition for true stars in their field and a linchpin for recruiting and retaining the highest caliber of faculty.
“This endowed professorship is the first of its kind in our department, and something Michael always felt was missing from our road map and our trajectory toward excellence,” said Christopher Cahill, professor of chemistry and international affairs, who succeeded Dr. King as chair of the Chemistry Department following Dr. King’s 23-year tenure in the position.
“Michael’s commitment to GW is unparalleled. He’s always been selfless, given so much of himself and is dedicated to creating frameworks for others’ successes,” said Dr. Cahill. “Now, with this incredible gift he has really given us enormous capacity to support our faculty and departmental aspirations.”
Dr. Cahill, hired in 2000, credits Dr. King’s personal influence as largely responsible for his success. “Michael was a very guiding figure—almost parental—with new faculty; he had sage advice and was very protective, supportive, and strategic,” he said.
Over nearly a half century, Dr. King indelibly imprinted GW and the broader scientific community. He poured his heart and soul into the university, coaching thousands of science students through the rigors of organic chemistry, chaired and participated on countless committees and served as the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) Marshal at graduations for 25 years.
His skilled teaching and service to the university over the years has been lauded with some of GW’s highest honors, including the George Washington Award in 2011, the Trachtenberg Prize for Service in 2003 and the Bender Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2009.
As the Chemistry Department chair, Dr. King’s focus on strategic and quality hiring doubled and diversified its faculty, and he was instrumental in the design and completion of Science and Engineering Hall (SEH). Serving under four presidents and 12 CCAS deans, he retired at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but he still can be found at his office in SEH two days each week.
The Kings’ motivation to bequeath a substantial portion of their remaining estate to GW was two-fold: their desire to give back to a “very special place” for their entire family and to make an impact.
“This bequest reflects Dr. King’s deep commitment to GW and his remarkable legacy as a teacher, mentor and tireless advocate for enhancing the research enterprise,” said CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck. “We are grateful to Dr. King and his wife, Linda, for their generosity and dedication to the success of GW and its community.”
Chemistry Professor Emeritus Michael King (left) and his wife, Linda.
Dr. King said that he recalls that the “GW community was extremely welcoming, from the beginning.”
“I found my niche with colleagues and friends,” he said. “The support and camaraderie over the years with faculty and staff across the university has only grown, along with our family’s connections.”
Dr. King’s love for the chemistry discipline, with its “logical and interesting way of explaining the world,” coupled with his facility for teaching (which he believes to be genetic, from his maternal side), created the perfect combination for a career in academics. As chair, his overarching goal for the department was reputational enhancement, he said, and the imprimatur of a named professorship was absent until their recent testamentary gift.
“The endowed professorship is a huge deal,” said Dr. Cahill. “It’s a license to recruit big guns and adds a layer of flexibility and independence.”
A majority of the Kings’ bequest will support the endowed organic chemistry professorship; a smaller percentage will honor their deep ties to GW Hillel. There, the Kings celebrated the first of many High Holidays and Passover Seders since their first year in D.C., holding their son Jacob’s Pidyon Haben (a ceremony for firstborn male children) at the groundbreaking for the previous Hillel building.
“There are few members of our community that have been as consistently devoted, thoughtful and kind,” said Adena Kirstein, GW Hillel’s executive director. “The Kings have been involved with GW Hillel for decades, whether serving in lay leadership roles, serving as a consistent presence at the High Holidays or always answering the call to help me reflect on broader trends and evolutions for our community over the years. Michael is a calming presence, a humble soul, and—as we would say at Hillel—a true mensch. We are deeply indebted, but not surprised, by the family's inspiring gift,” added Ms. Kirstein.
The rest of the King family is connected to GW beyond Hillel. Linda earned a Ph.D. in information and decision systems from School of Business in 2000, and their son, Jacob, is currently in the data science program in CCAS.
“It is truly heartwarming that the Kings, whose lives are so interconnected and interwoven into the very fabric of GW, have thought ahead to continue their legacy and will support the university for future generations,” said Donna Arbide, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations at GW. “We are extremely grateful for their generous spirit and actions.”
Linda King, who spent her career in technology, including work for the federal government, added that she feels strongly about the need to invest in science in our country. In determining where to make that science investment, there never was any question on where their major contribution would go.
“I always tell people ‘I know Michael loves me, and adores our son Jacob, but his family is GW’,” said Linda King, with a laugh.
For more information on ways to support the legacy of Professor Emeritus King, please contact Sveta Wilkson at [email protected], or donations in his honor may be made to GW’s Chemistry Department or GW Hillel.