Raymond "Sugar Ray" Lemieux (1920-2000)
Dr. Raymond Urgel Lemieux devoted his life to education and research, and
through his efforts, helped to illuminate the once obscure science of
Lemieux was born in Lac La Biche, Alberta June 16, 1920. When he was six,
his family moved to Edmonton settling in the Boyle Street area, "an
Irish-French-Ukrainian ghetto where the main challenge was to avoid
associations that could lead to reform school," writes Lemieux in his
autobiography, Explorations with Sugars. A self-described "poor boy from the
sticks", he was brought up mostly by his oldest sister. His mother died
when Lemieux was seven and their father was often out of town doing
carpentry work. Though his favourite subject in school was chemistry, the
budding scientist had aspirations of playing in the NHL. After less than a
season with the Edmonton Junior Hockey League, he gave up his dream in
His fallback was, not surprisingly, science, and four years after choosing a
major in chemistry, he graduated with an honours degree from the
University of Alberta in 1943.
Having received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from McGill University in
1946, Lemieux was awarded a post-doctoral scholarship to study the
structure streptomycin at Ohio State University. It was here he met his
wife, Virginia (née McConaghie, with whom he had six children) and where
he embarked on what would become the groundwork for his future career in
Lemieux then joined the University of Saskatchewan, working as an assistant
professor for two years. While working at the National Research Council in
Saskatoon, he and a post-doctoral fellow became the first scientists to
synthesize sucrose, ordinary sugar, in 1953. A year later, he was invited
to help build a new chemistry department at the University of Ottawa, and
to serve as the Dean of pure and applied science.
He returned to Edmonton in 1961 to become a professor and chairman of the
division of organic chemistry at the University of Alberta. Among other
achievements, Lemieux was the first to synthesize oligosaccarides, a sugar
that coats red blood cells.
Throughout his career, Lemieux established several biochemical companies
including R & L Molecular Research Ltd., which he founded with his brother
Jeffery I. Seeman, editor of Lemieux's autobiography wrote of his collegue, "Lemieux has three
"likes". He likes to be right. He likes to laugh. And
he likes to eat! Lemieux can do all three at the same time."
"The Gunning/Lemieux Chemistry Centre" was unveiled at the University of Alberta in November 2001.
Copyright © 2003
Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved