Robert N. Clayton, 87

Robert N. (Bob) Clayton, 87, of Chicago, Ill., and Michigan City, Ind., died on Saturday, Dec. 30 at home with his family and pets in Michigan City, of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Bob was born March 20, 1930, in the back of his grandfather’s plumbing shop in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He spent his childhood in Hamilton, with summers spent berry picking and laboring in factories, until departing for Queens University in Kingston, ON. There, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951 and a Master of Science degree in 1952.

Bob left for the United States thereafter, where he would remain for the rest of his important academic and scientific career. In 1955 he earned his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, where he was mentored by geochemist Samuel Epstein. In 1958 he moved to Chicago, assuming the laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey at the University of Chicago in the Institute of Geophysical Sciences. He lived in the United States under permanent resident status until his naturalization as a US citizen in 1995.

Bob’s lab work focused primarily on the analysis of oxygen isotopes in meteorites and their components, as well as moon rocks, whose study has led to a greater understanding of the origin of planets in our solar system. Bob received great recognition for his contribution to this field of study, including membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Societies of Canada and England, as well as honors such as the William Bowie Medal from the American Geophysical Union, and the National Academy of Science’s J. Lawrence Smith Medal. In 2004, he was awarded the National Medal of Science, the United States’ top scientific honor. Bob worked as a professor at the University of Chicago from 1958 until 2001, remaining active as a researcher in Emeritus status until 2014.

Though Bob’s favorite pastime was always science, his hobbies included travel, photography, birdwatching, listening to classical music and jazz, solving puzzles of all types, rooting—usually fruitlessly, except in 2016—for the Chicago Cubs, and walking along the shores of Lake Michigan. He particularly enjoyed cruise ship travel with his wife, Cathy, with whom he saw much of the world.

Bob is survived by his wife of 47 years, Cathleen (née Shelburne) Clayton, daughter Elizabeth Clayton (Eduardo) and granddaughter Leonora, as well as brother-in-law Denny Turner. Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Norman and Gwenda (née Twist) Clayton, and his sister Betty Turner.

Bob’s family would like to thank the international scientific community for their memories of Bob and recognition of his contributions to science, which along with the legacy of his granddaughter will keep Bob’s spirit alive for generations to come. The family would also like to thank the compassionate staff and caregivers at Senior Helpers of Indiana and at Dunes Hospice for their loving attention to Bob in his final struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

A memorial service celebrating Bob’s life and work is tentatively planned for Chicago in the spring of 2018.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Arrangements have been entrusted to Geisen-Carlisle Funeral Home, 613 Washington St., Michigan City, IN.

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