Lasting Memories

Elmer Reist
Aug. 29, 1930-Feb. 13, 2023
Menlo Park, California

Elmer Joseph Reist passed away in February of 2023 at Stanford Hospital as a result of complications from advanced kidney disease.

Elmer frequently remarked that he had led a charmed, perfectly-timed life. He grew up in Alberta, Canada, on a farm without electricity or running water, where he developed an iron constitution, a powerful work ethic, and a permanent dislike for raspberries and the cold. He liked to recount one childhood Christmas, when his parents gave him the chemistry kit that sparked a lifelong fascination for the building blocks of life.

Elmer studied Honors Chemistry at the University of Alberta with Dr. Reuben Benjamin Sandin, while forming lasting bonds with his fellow students. He enjoyed the best room in the boarding house thanks to strategically gifting the headmaster with ducks he had hunted at home. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, perfecting his research skills while working with Nobel Laureates. There, Elmer met his future wife Helen in the basement of Old Chem, when she criticized his technique during a game of pinochle and took over playing his hand.

Elmer returned to Canada for a post-doc in Ottawa, a year which was an important part of his education and during which he made more lifelong friends. But Elmer’s time at Cal had created an affection for the San Francisco Bay Area, and ultimately his distaste for cold weather won out. He returned the following year to the Stanford Research Institute (now called SRI International), where he began a productive career synthesizing antivirals and anti-cancer drugs in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute. He earned patents, co-authored more than 40 research papers, became a group leader at SRI’s Life Sciences Division, and launched several successful research programs—bringing renown to SRI and establishing SRI’s preeminence in the field of drug synthesis. Elmer was inducted into SRI International’s Hall of Fame in 2011 along with his close friends and colleagues, Drs. Joe DeGraw and Ed Acton.

Despite his demanding work, Elmer maintained a rich personal life. He was a skilled woodworker and rebuilt the kitchen of his Menlo Park home to the exacting specifications of his gourmet-chef wife. This kitchen hosted many lively family gatherings. It was also central to Elmer and Helen's monthly participation in an AAUW dining group where they made not only culinary masterpieces, but dear friendships as well.

While his daughters, Noreen and Nancy, were growing up, all four returned every summer to the farm in Alberta. They usually made this trek in the family station wagon, exploring the magnificent terrain of Western North America along the way. Once they reached Alberta, they spent many happy hours with Elmer's mother and the families of his brother, Denis, and sister, Trish. Their stays were punctuated by lively games of Canadian Rummy and Cribbage, fishing for pickerel, lamb barbecues, and visits with dozens of cousins. These summer visits continued after Nancy and Noreen were grown, with new generations of Reists (including Elmer’s granddaughters, Christy and Seanna) joining the fray.

Elmer's travels were not limited to Canada. He visited every continent except Antarctica. His many excursions included an opera week in Salzburg, the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, African safaris, birding expeditions in South America, rafting on the Coppermine River in Canada, cruises in Alaska and the fjords of Norway, snorkeling in many of the ocean reefs of the Pacific, Caribbean, and Red Sea, and total solar eclipses in Salzburg, Mazatlan, and Wyoming. He was accompanied on most of his trips by his wife, children, grandchildren, and dear friends.

Elmer was deeply committed to his family. He always looked forward to calls or Zoom meetings from his family in Canada. He regularly visited Colorado to see his daughter Noreen and her family. He was extremely proud of his daughters and granddaughters, and thrilled by the births of his great-grandchildren Phineas Elmer and Helen Elina.

Music was another essential part of Elmer's life. He had eclectic taste and might be found at bluegrass, swing, and Grateful Dead concerts. But his passion was symphonic, chamber, and choral music. During his days at Cal, he regularly crossed the Bay Bridge to hear the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera, and he continued subscribing to both throughout his life. He deeply appreciated the influence of Michael Tilson Thomas on SF Symphony, particularly his introduction of pianist Yuja Wang.

Elmer is survived by his brother and sister, his two daughters, his two granddaughters, and his two great-grandchildren, all of whom deeply love and sincerely miss him.

Memorial donations may be made to The San Francisco Symphony Education & Community Programs. (Be sure to select "Education & Community Programs" underneath where it says "Designate my gift toward the...(optional)".