Robert Gideon Carlson

Robert Gideon Carlson of Lawrence, Kansas, passed away on November 26, 2020, at the age of 82. Robert died of complications relating to COVID-19 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Robert was born in Chicago, Illinois, on February 4, 1938, to father Reverend Carl Gideon Carlson and mother Ethel Marie Osterberg Carlson. He was an only child. Robert met his wife Nancy Beatrice Rohrbough Carlson in Boston and they were married in 1962. They lived almost all of their 58 year marriage in Lawrence, Kansas. Robert was an avid fan of KU Basketball.

Robert G. Carlson received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1959 and the Ph.D. degree in synthetic organic chemistry from M.I.T. in 1963. In the fall of 1963 he joined the faculty at the University of Kansas as an assistant professor of chemistry. He was soon promoted to associate and then full professor, held an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1970-72), and engaged in teaching and research until his retirement in 2013. At that time some of his former students established the Robert Carlson Travel Fund to support undergraduate travel to chemistry meetings.

Professor Carlson was an inspiring teacher and colleague. He was the recipient of two of the most prestigious University of Kansas teaching awards: the Mortar Board Outstanding Educator Award (twice; in 1982 and 1999) and, in 2007, the Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching. His undergraduate and graduate-level classes on the principles and applications of organic chemistry were among the most popular in the Chemistry Department. His presentations raised students’ interest and supplied a foundation for further study and careers in the chemical and biological sciences, medicine, and engineering. Most of his graduate students went on to academic or industrial positions in these fields. Comments from some of them include: “We were lucky to have studied under one of the best teachers of chemistry of our era and to have been influenced by such a gentleman” and that he “had a special way of teaching that made one think scientifically and was encouraging to all students.”

His expertise in organic synthesis attracted faculty from other departments, e.g., biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, and medicinal chemistry to seek out his collaboration in solving chemistry problems in their fields, the work with these researchers and with his Ph.D. and other graduate students resulted in dozens of publications in leading journals of Chemistry and Pharmacy and a number of patents.

Robert was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife Nancy Beatrice Carlson; children Christina Ann Carlson and Kenneth Lynn Carlson; grandchild Natalie Anne Carlson.

There will be an online memorial service for Robert on Saturday, December 5th at 1 PM. Those wishing to attend can go to The link will be live starting at 12:45 PM.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations supporting the Dr. Robert G. Carlson Undergraduate Travel fund be made to KU Endowment, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044 or online at or donations in Robert’s name to First United Methodist Church Lawrence; 946 Vermont St, Lawrence, KS 66044-2832.

The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the doctors, nurses and staff of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Especially the nurses of 3rd Floor North who made his last days so comfortable.