Roger DuWayne Willett, 83, a resident of Spokane and previous longtime resident of Pullman, died Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center of cancer-related causes, following more than 10 years of treatment for a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
Roger was born July 13, 1936, in Northfield, Minn., to Leon and Inga Willett. In 1957, he and Thelma Hanson were wed, remaining married for 55 years until her death in 2012, jointly raising six children, and enjoying their many grandchildren. He married Jill Piper in 2019, enlarging his circle of family further.
Roger graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield in 1958 and was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship in chemistry. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry and physics at Iowa State University in 1962. He then joined the faculty at Washington State University in the chemistry department. There he mentored many graduate and postdoctoral students, and published more than 100 scientific papers, many on discovering the structure of crystals and their magnetic properties.
He served as chair of the chemistry department at WSU from 1974-78 and from 1992-98. He was awarded a NATO Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship, and his work led to collaboration with researchers in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and in Valencia, Spain. He was a visiting professor at the University of Zurich in 1980 and a Fulbright fellow at the University of Leiden (the Netherlands) in 1981.
In 2003, he and Thelma bought an apartment in Valencia, forming a home base for many trips to Spain and other parts of Europe. They hosted multiple visits by their children, grandchildren and others to Spain, with memories cherished by all.
In addition to travel, Roger’s many interests included home gardening, WSU athletics and, in his later years, genealogy of the Willett family and team bowling in Spokane leagues. He loved serving garden-grown fruits, berries and vegetables to family, students and other guests in their home; a fond family recollection is being treated by Roger to fresh berries on vanilla ice cream while playing games at the kitchen table. His growing interest in genealogy took him on trips across the country where he connected with many relatives, both long-known and newly discovered.
Roger was preceded in death by his parents and by his first wife, Thelma, Aug. 27, 2012. He is survived by his wife, Jill; by his brother, Bryce and Melinda Willett, of Carlsbad, Calif.; three daughters, Juanita and Barry Hansen, of Lake Forest Park, Wash., Kathryn and Craig Verbeck, of Oregon City, Ore., and Andrea Beth Willett, of Pullman; three sons, DuWayne and Lauren Willett, of Coppell, Texas, Eric and Gracelyn Willett, of Kent, Wash., and Dallas and Kira Willett, of Albuquerque, N.M.; by a stepson, Jesse Bennett, of Spokane; by 12 grandchildren, Hillary and Alex Jeffrey, Tyler Hansen, Daryl Hansen and Queena Chen, Kyle and Alyse Willett, Mallory Willett, Jake and Alanna Bahlburg, Ellie Bahlburg, Nia Verbeck, Jordan Willett, Aubrey Ong, Allaina Ong and Jade Moore; two stepgrandchildren, Chloe and Aiden Bennett; and by four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Kimball Funeral Home of Pullman is caring for the family. Online condolences may be sent to www.kimballfh.com.