SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  19 January 2012
Volume 13 Issue 1

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Rebecca Dickhut

In Memoriam: Rebecca M. Dickhut

Charles Wong, Past Chair, SETAC North America Chemistry Advisory Group, on behalf of the CAG

On 4 November 2011, we lost a prominent member of SETAC. Dr. Rebecca Dickhut passed away after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last April. Rebecca was a graduate of St. Norbert College and received her Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She joined the faculty of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, in 1989. In her 22-year career, she published extensively on the environmental chemistry of persistent organic pollutants. Her work has covered topics ranging from the fate and transport of persistent organic pollutants in Antarctica, to population dynamics of Atlantic bluefin tuna based on contaminant profiles as tracers, to the behavior of PAHs and PCBs in Chesapeake Bay. She was a respected and well-loved mentor for students and colleagues and worked tirelessly to share her experience with them. Endowed with a genuine love of science and community, having served on numerous committees in her institution (including as department chair for over a decade), and in promoting the role of women students and professionals within SETAC.

Rebecca will be sorely missed, both as a professional and as a friend. The following tribute by Deb Swackhamer says it best:

Tribute to Rebecca Dickhut, by Dr. Deborah Swackhamer, University of Minnesota
I first met Becky when I was a second-year graduate student in the Water Chemistry Program (now the Environmental Chemistry & Technology Program) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The new student from DePere, Wisconsin, was a very welcome addition to our intramural women’s basketball team, which consisted of me, our one other female graduate student and a lot of drafted girlfriends and roommates.  We had never won a game. Now we had Becky, our secret weapon… Becky was a terrific athlete, not just because of her physical talents but because of her ability to focus and put distractions aside, to think strategically, to appreciate the synergies of being a team player. She was a fierce competitor but also had a keen belief in fairness. She brought the same attributes to her professional life and passed on these values to her own students. 

Becky and I “grew up” together, professionally. We were the second and third female Ph.D.s from the Water Chemistry graduate program, respectively, so formed a strong bond as we forged our way through the largely male-dominated profession we both chose to enter, environmental chemistry academe. We started attending SETAC as assistant professors, and a few years later, when we realized we were both bringing our own graduate students to give talks at SETAC, we had really accomplished something. So we celebrated with champagne and chocolate, along with a handful of other female chemists of similar professional age and their students. We celebrated that not only had we succeeded, but that we had become successful mentors for others. This tradition has grown and continues to celebrate the successes of our women chemists in SETAC.

I last saw Becky when I visited VIMS last April, just a week before her illness struck. We stayed up late, drinking wine in her beautiful living room overlooking part of Chesapeake Bay, remembering the past but mostly talking about our futures, what we were going to do with ourselves for the next ten years. She still had lots of hopes and dreams, more life to live. The fact that she didn’t get to is tragic. What is not tragic, but is a gift, is that the life Becky had, she lived to the fullest. She lived life like she played basketball – eye on the ball, looking to win, helping her team be all it could be. I will never forget her smile, the sparkle in her eyes, her irreverent humor, her passion for science, her love of travel, her friendship. Thank you, Becky.

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