Most chemists today could scarcely imagine a world where they could not simply turn to a catalogue to find the specialized chemicals they need for their work. Alfred Bader envisioned just such a world while working as a research chemist with a paint company in the early 1950s. Working with a partner in a garage, they began purchasing novel chemicals from academic laboratories and packaging them for mail order customers. Their firm, Aldrich Chemical Company, was instrumental in setting new standards for the speed and versatility of research, a reputation that the company has maintained to this day. For Alfred Bader, who arrived in Canada as a German-speaking teenage refugee in 1940, his dramatic entrepreneurial success became a further opportunity to repay those who had helped him along the way with an outstanding array of cultural, educational, and financial gifts. Nowhere was his gratitude felt more profoundly than Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the institution that offered him the opportunity to obtain an undergraduate education. Although his business took him all over the world, he regularly returned to Queen’s, a campus and community he loved.
Alfred Bader died on December 23, 2018, at the age of 94. The loss was especially significant for the Queen’s community, where he and his wife, Isabel, made numerous contributions in the form of a centre for performing arts, a priceless collection of historical European art, which includes three Rembrandts. The donations even include a castle in England, which now serves as an international study center for students, endowed research chairs in art history and chemistry in addition to countless bursaries, scholarships, and fellowships.
P. Andrew Evans the current holder of the Alfred R. Bader Chair in Organic Chemistry at Queen’s, a post that enabled him to interact with its founder, notes, “Alfred saw that providing these gifts was a way to provide students a world-class education in a similar manner to the way he had benefitted at Queen’s.”
Evans first met Alfred and Isabel Bader on one of their many trips to research laboratories around the globe. Evans was a first-year graduate student at the University of Cambridge and remembers being totally shocked to find the owner of Aldrich walking through the laboratories asking graduate students for input into potential new products and improving what was already being offered.
Evans also reflects on the impact that Alfred’s vision had on research output around the world. He notes that “a Nobel prize in chemistry is awarded for important discoveries or improvements that have a profound impact on the way that the science is then conducted. One could make a direct analogy with what Alfred Bader achieved with Aldrich, since prior to its establishment there was limited access to chemical intermediates and reagents, which was at that time the rate-determining step in research. He was able to take new discoveries and offer them to laboratories at different institutions and companies and thereby accelerate new discoveries.”
Evans goes on to say, “Like all great discoveries it is easy to see the impact after the fact, but we have to remember it was Alfred’s vision that changed the face of research around the world … pretty amazing stuff.”
Evans also thinks that it is fitting that his life is being celebrated in so many ways around campus. “There are certain people who come our way that make a huge difference,” he says. “He was such a person and a Queen’s graduate, which makes us all very proud to be associated with the institution and the Bader family. I think the life-lesson here is that there is no easy path in life but drive and determination are critical elements to achieving success. Alfred had a pretty tough start in life, but he took his opportunity and made a difference. After all, this is why we are here — to inspire students to future success.”