Memorial Tributes: Volume 26
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  • JAMES F. ROTH (1925-2021)



    JAMES FRANK ROTH1 of Warminster, Pennsylvania, died on his 96th birthday, December 7, 2021.

    Born in Rahway, New Jersey, Jim was a member of the first graduating class of the Bronx High School of Science, graduating at age 15. He enlisted in the Navy at 17 and was sent to school at the University of Pennsylvania and then Midshipman School at Columbia University. While Jim was serving as chief navigator on the LST 477 during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the ship was blasted with a 500-pound bomb and hit by a kamikaze plane.

    After being discharged from the Navy with the rank of LTJG, Jim returned to college, earning a BS in physical chemistry from the University of West Virginia and a PhD from the University of Maryland.

    During his career with Monsanto in St. Louis, Missouri, and Air Products in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he served as chief scientist and director of corporate research, Jim was recognized for his achievements as the principal inventor of processes for the commercial production of acetic acid and the production of linear olefins used to make biodegradable detergents. The acetic acid process has been licensed extensively throughout the world. Jim is the author of over 30 scientific papers and numerous US and foreign patents. He served as associate editor of Applied Catalysis and on the editorial boards of Catalysis Reviews, Catalysis Today, and Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

    Jim received numerous awards, including the Kokes Award from Johns Hopkins University, the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists (1986), the Houdry Award from the North American Catalysis Society (1991), and the E.V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (1976). He was the first person to receive the American Chemical Society Award in Indus-trial Chemistry (1991). He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, and he was cited by the Chemical Heritage Foundation as one of the leading American chemists of the twentieth century. Jim was the 1988 recipient of the Perkin Medal for his achievements in catalytic research, considered the highest recognition for chemical achievements in the United States.

    When he wasn’t working, he and his wife Sharon (Mattes) Roth shared a 52-year adventure of world travel, symphonies, museums, opera, and fine dining. They spent their first 18 years of retirement in Sarasota, Florida, and the next 14 years in independent senior adult communities in Dallas, Texas, and Warminster, Pennsylvania. Jim was lovingly cared for in his final year by his wife Sharon and caregiver Daionna Combs.

    He is survived by his wife; daughter, Sandy Freeman (Mickey) of Allentown; sons Ed (Sue) of New City, New York, and Larry (Colleen) of St. Louis; stepson Ladd Hirsch (Cindy); 10 grandchildren; and 8 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his stepdaughter, Lisa Phillips (Jim), and his sister, Phyllis Davis.


    1This tribute draws extensively from the obituary published at That obituary was reprinted on December 12, 2021, by the North American Catalysis Society at