Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Dr. W. Allan Powell taught at the University of Richmond from 1952 until his retirement in 1991. Friends and colleagues established the W. Allan Powell Lectureship in Chemistry in his honor upon his retirement. Powell passed away Dec. 21 at the age of 89.

By the time Allan Powell retired from the University of Richmond, he’d become immune to jellyfish stings.

That’s because Powell, professor emeritus and 23-year-chair of the chemistry department, spent his summers with his family and his colleague Nolan Rice on the Chesapeake Bay researching the toxins and antitoxins of the stinging nettles that presented a hazard for swimmers.

Powell’s daughter, Beth Yerxa, and his two sons all graduated from Richmond — with English degrees, which Yerxa said drove her father crazy. But she and her brothers spent the summers helping their father collect jellyfish.

“As kids we used to go down to Deltaville and go to the docks and scoop up jellyfish,” she recalled, “and they’d cut the tentacles off and put them in big glass jars. I always thought it was weird that they could touch them and it wouldn’t hurt because they’d been stung so many times.”

Hunter Daughtrey, R ’69 and member of Gamma Sigma Epsilon, studied the stinging nettles alongside Powell, as a teaching assistant and a student researcher.

Daughtrey’s first experience with Powell was in his qualitative and quantitative analysis course. He later worked on Powell’s jellyfish research, separating the extract using paper chromatography — Daughtrey’s first exposure to the medium, which provided the backbone of his career in chemical analysis for environmental studies.

“His enthusiasm and clear presentation really planted the seed that analytical chemistry was what I wanted to do as a career,” Daughtrey said. “I think the combination of detective work to identify unknowns plus the smell of hydrogen sulfide in the air made it feel like ‘real’ chemistry.”

Daughtrey even returned to campus with other alumni for the opening of the state-of-the-art Gottwald Science Building in 1977, and witnessed firsthand Powell’s pride and excitement about acquiring proper research facilities after years spent making do in Puryear Hall. The opportunity to teach in the new building made for “an appropriate cap for his excellent career,” Daughtrey said.

Yerxa said that as much as her father loved research, he particularly appreciated and was proud of the fact that the University of Richmond made the decision to be a teaching college because it made for better students in the long run. Powell spent a significant amount of his time advising pre-med students.

Jennifer Brice Williams — a friend of Yerxa’s who ultimately graduated from Old Dominion University in 1981 — majored in chemistry and is now a nurse working on her master’s degree. Williams took organic chemistry with Powell one summer in a class of four students, and remembered Powell as calm and always available.

After she and the other students finished their exam, they went out for beer and pizza to celebrate — but they didn’t forget Powell.

“Afterward, we bought another pizza and some beer and took it by his house while he graded papers,” Williams recalled. “He thought it was great that we were comfortable enough to come by the house.”

Yerxa said she could remember more than one occasion when students would come by the house, just wanting to spend some social time with Powell.

“The people he touched was really students,” she said. “He always sort of fought for people he thought were deserving and whose grades may not have shown it. There was a lot of respect for him.”

Since 1988, the University of Richmond and the Virginia Section of the American Chemical Society have hosted the W. Allan Powell Lectureship in Chemistry, inviting prominent chemists to campus annually to give a public lecture. The 2011 lecturer is Harry B. Gray, the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and the founding director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology.