Dec. 26, 1931 – Feb. 22, 2020
Beloved professor, mentor, colleague, friend, father, and activist Martin Paul Gouterman, of Seattle, Washington, died on Feb. 22, 2020 at the age of 88. Born on Dec. 26, 1931 in Philadelphia, PA, to Bernard and Melba Buxbaum Gouterman, Martin was an only child. At a young age, his first cousin Jules Silk came to live with his parents, and they were raised as brothers.
Martin graduated from Philadelphia’s Central High School in 1949. After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, he continued there to earn his PhD in physics in 1958. That same year, he started his career as a Professor in the Harvard University Department of Chemistry.
In 1966, Martin came to the University of Washington in Seattle as a Professor of Chemistry. He was named Professor Emeritus in 1999. After his retirement, in 2006, an international symposium in Rome honored his accomplishments.
Professor Gouterman’s scientific legacy includes more than 30 PhD students, including Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman; 10 master’s students; and more than 150 widely-cited papers. He was deeply involved with undergraduates, as a research mentor and as primary instigator and former Associate Chair for the Department of Chemistry’s popular Undergraduate Program. One of his former students referred to him as a “professor’s professor.” He was beloved for his rare combination of scientific creativity, integrity, personal warmth, and modesty.
Professor Gouterman did extensive research with porphyrin molecules. He explained on a quantum mechanical level why grass is green and blood is red. To explain the absorption spectra of porphyrins, he developed the Gouterman Four-Orbital Model. The research community recognized his important theoretical contributions. Funded by NASA, he helped invent a pressure-sensitive paint used by Boeing to improve airplane wing design and overall performance.
Beginning in the 1960’s, Martin worked as an activist to end the Vietnam War. He worked for years with Kadima/New Jewish Agenda (now Kadima Reconstructionist Community) and the International Jewish Peace Union for an end to the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and a just Israeli-Palestinian peace. He wrote several articles and letters on the topic. In 2001, he traveled to that area with a group from Temple B’nai Torah.
Martin began to come out as gay in the 1960’s, a time when it was not safe, personally or professionally, to do so. As recounted in the book Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, he helped found the Dorian Society, an organization to promote understanding and tolerance of gay people. He came up with the name, which is a coded, slyly humorous reference to ancient Hellenic warriors who considered homosexuality a virtue.
In the early 1980’s, Martin joined a community network of anonymous sperm donors to enable lesbians to have children without experiencing the prevalent homophobia of medical providers. In 1983, he helped June BlueSpruce and Martha Read conceive a son, Mikaelin. Six years later, through a mutual friend, Martin and his son were introduced. For over thirty years, he was a loving father to his son and a close family member of Mikaelin’s two mothers. In 2018, Mikaelin and his wife Luina had a daughter, Alma. Martin delighted in his granddaughter.
A music enthusiast, Martin loved Classical and Jazz. He studied piano performance at the University of Chicago before changing his major to physics. As an adult, he frequently visited clubs to hear local jazz musicians such as Melody Jones and Ruby Bishop.
Martin was devoted to his large family, which included dozens of cousins. Family members remember him for his brilliance, kindness, and humor.
Martin is survived by his son, Mikaelin BlueSpruce (Luina) and his grandchild Alma; his first cousin Jules Silk (Bernice) and their children and grandchildren; and many other cousins.
If you would like to make a donation in memory of Martin, please direct gifts to the Pride Foundation, Seattle Humane Society, Kadima Reconstructionist Community, or the University of Washington Department of Chemistry.
His memorial service will be held in Seattle on a future date to be determined. If you would like to be notified of the memorial service, please contact June by email at email@example.com.