William A.G. (Bill) Graham



It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of William A.G. (Bill) Graham on February 26, 2021, in Edmonton.

Bill was a renowned chemist, an accomplished photographer, and a lover of traditional jazz. He was a man of great focus and intensity, great clarity of mind, and great enthusiasms, which he loved to share: tennis, the PBS Newshour, Walla Walla sweet onions, The Fabulous Baker Boys. He knew where the best pastrami sandwiches could be found in Montreal, Toronto, New York, and Boston. He loved family and food, for he understood that food and family were love, and that they were inseparable.

Born in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, on August 23, 1930, the youngest child of William and Julia Graham, Bill studied chemistry at the University of Saskatchewan, where he met and married his wife of 56 years, Sydna Cantelon, in 1951, and at Harvard, where he received his doctorate in 1956. He taught at the University of Alberta from 1962-95, then served six years as Associate Dean of Science (Research). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Centenary Lecturer of the Royal Society of Chemistry (London), and a recipient of the Palladium Medal (the Chemical Institute of Canada’s highest honour), the Noranda and Steacie Awards of the Canadian Society for Chemistry, the Kaplan Prize (the University of Alberta’s top award for research), and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He is best known for his pioneering work in transition metal-catalyzed C-H bond activation, an area of research whose industrial and medical applications are still being explored.

Bill’s first job was at Graham Brothers Hardware in Rosetown, and his hardware background lived on in his meticulous organization and ingenious storage solutions, his passion for record-keeping, and his fascination with kitchen gadgets. He delighted in pointing out “the miracles of chemistry,” a phrase he applied liberally and with a smile to a wide variety of experiences, including the gastric. An early riser, he enjoyed breakfast and – and especially with – a good obituary, once writing that “My oatmeal doesn’t taste as good when unaccompanied by an interesting and informative obit, which is like a page from history.” He believed that if you baked a better bran muffin, the world would beat a path to your door.

Bill set up his first photography studio in his parents’ garage in Rosetown and became proficient in the darkroom arts. He worked his way from a Brownie Reflex to a Hasselblad, before finally taking the leap to digital in 2004. Among his favourite subjects were his wife, his children (especially if they were eating), and Oregon’s Cannon Beach, where he and Sydna spent some of their happiest hours relaxing together.

His passion for jazz was also lifelong. As a teenager, he played clarinet and saxophone at local dances and heard Miff Mole and his Molers play at the Beehive in Chicago’s Hyde Park. In the 1980s he heard stride piano greats Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton play at Hanratty’s dinner club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s he and Sydna travelled to jazz festivals in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. For his 90th birthday his children hired a Dixieland jazz quartet to perform a socially-distanced concert in his backyard.

Bill was predeceased by his brother, George and sister, Margaret, and by his wife, Sydna, to whom Bill was a devoted caregiver during her seven-year struggle with cancer. He leaves behind his five children, Janet, Jennifer (Ron), Bill (Candace), Ken (Beth), and Liz; nine grandchildren, Heather (Justin), Brendan (Robyn), Ronald (Mary), Anna, Kaitlin, Jimmy, Robbie, Claire, and Grace; and three great-grandchildren, Lyla, Madeleine, and Phoebe.

A gathering to celebrate and remember Bill will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday August 17, 2021 at Foster McGarvey Funeral Home, 10011 - 114 Street NW, Edmonton.

In Loving Memory of
William A.G. (Bill) Graham
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Funeral Service:
Celebration of Life
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
10:00 AM
Downtown Chapel
10011 - 114 Street
Edmonton, AB
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