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William Barclay "Bill" Whitten Obituary

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William Barclay “Bill” Whitten, age 87, passed away peacefully on October 15, 2022, at Patriot Hills Assisted Living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is remembered with love by Wendy, his wife of 51 years; his daughters, Catherine, Jennifer, and Emma; his brother, David; six nieces and nephews and their families, and his faithful Jack Russell terrier, Fiona. He was preceded in death by his brother, John, and his sister-in-law, Rosann. Bill was born on October 11, 1935, in Pasadena, California, while his parents were on a cross-country trip for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. He inherited their love of travel and enjoyed vacations at Scientists’ Cliffs and the Boundary Waters, family reunions in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, and work in England, Korea, and Brazil. While growing up in Maryland, he was active in the Boy Scouts and marching band, and helped publish SF, a science fiction magazine. In 1953, his senior year of high school, he received first prize in the Montgomery Blair Science Fair for his project on a digital computer. Bill attended Gettysburg College from 1953-1957, and in 1962, he received his PhD in Physics from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. He then worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, and finally at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 42 years, where he was a member of the Distinguished R&D Staff in the Chemical Sciences Division. Among other distinctions, he received multiple R&D 100 awards, and an invention using his work in portable ion trap mass spectrometry was ranked as one of the top ten commercial successes by the ORNL technology transfer office. Bill is equally remembered as an inspiring professor and mentor to many students and postdocs at ORNL, as well as at Iowa State, Queens College, CUNY, and the University of São Paulo, Brazil, where he was a founding member of the Low Temperature and Solid State Laboratory research group at the Institute of Physics. Bill enjoyed many hobbies, and was playing his guitar and reading mystery novels until nearly the end of his life. He also played the banjo, dobro, and various brass and string instruments, including the double bass in a dance band in college. Fluent in Portuguese, he loved the bossa nova music of João and Astrud Gilberto, as well as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Flatt and Scruggs, Edgar Meyer, and many others. He and his wife Wendy were avid beekeepers for many years, and his talent for woodworking is evident in their house that he built in Morgan County. Other passions included fly fishing, bird watching, ham radio, photography, growing ginseng and grapes, wine making, building computers and musical instruments, watching almost any sport, and fixing VW Bugs. A memorial service and celebration of Bill’s life will be held in the spring of 2023. The family would like to thank Jerry and Kristin and the loving staff and family at Patriot Hills, Adoration Hospice, Pierce Physical Therapy, Genesis Neuroscience Clinic, Beverly and Carolyn from Senior Home Assistance, Delphina Home Health, James and Linda Maden, Wayne and Debbie Hamby, RB Maden, Dudley and Ruth Hurst, and all who cared for Bill. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial gifts be made to Aid to Distressed Families of Appalachian Counties (ADFAC), Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM), or the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. No services are scheduled at this time. Online condolences may be left at

Posted online on October 19, 2022

Published in Knoxville News Sentinel