Chester Martin Remembers Dr. Irvine Grote

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Dr. Irvin Grote
Dr. Irvin Grote

Everyone on the University of Chattanooga campus knew who Dr. Irvine Grote (pronounced "Groty") was, even when they never took one of his classes. I was in the latter category, and do not ever remember even shaking his hand or talking with him. He would be seen hurrying about the campus, always immaculately dressed, in respect for his role as Head of the Chemistry Department. He had a ruddy countenance - the sort of person that could readily break into a laugh, and it is said that you could easily pass his courses if you half tried.

My most notable contact with Dr. Grote was following a much-publicized trip he had taken to Afghanistan in the early 1950's.

He was dismayed at the poverty he found there - and I completely forget the original purpose of the trip. He told about it, however, in one of those (required) chapel programs that our University used to have weekly - (where you entered to organ music played by Professor Isa McIlwraith, receiving a small card at the chapel entrance which you must sign and turn in to Mrs. May Saunders upon leaving). Everyone generally dreaded "Chapel", but this program of Dr. Grote's was most fascinating - and memorable. He told of this far-away land that was essentially constructed out of mud - and I could not really imagine such a place until the recent war over there, when the HD graphics shown on all the news networks  proved him right. (It should be noted that his Afghanistan trip was made a number of years before the big passenger jets, and travel was consequently much more difficult).

But Dr. Grote was a Chemist by profession, and through many twists and turns of his education and employment, he wound up not only on the UC faculty, but also on the staff of our Chattanooga Medicine Company before it became Chattem, Inc. He gave them the formulae for both Bufferin and Rolaids!

 For all his great achievements in the field of Chemistry he was granted a "Guerry Professorship" at the university. This was supposed to double a worthy professor's salary although he was already refusing his regular salary! Don't ask me how that worked; I only have the story from second-hand sources. But it sounds credible, knowing something of his character.

Dr. Grote was born on Cameron Hill in 1899, four years after my mother was born in St. Elmo. He went to the University of Chattanooga 1918-1922, receiving his bachelor's degree. He got his master's degree from Columbia. His Ph.D. was from the University of Cincinnati. When he died suddenly in his sleep in 1972 the new science building on the University campus was named in his honor. He resided on Missionary Ridge and kept an extensive wine cellar with samplings of exotic wines and liqueurs from all over the world.

I have been told that his daughter followed him in the field of Chemistry to become Head of Procter and Gamble's Chemistry Research department.

Our university has been blessed with a number of such truly excellent professors.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin


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