Irving Shain

MADISON, WI - Irving Shain, 92, passed away on March 6, 2018, at Attic Angels surrounded by his family. He was born in Seattle, Washington, and graduated with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Washington, which he attended after serving three years in the United States Army during World War II. 

He moved to Madison, Wis. in 1952 where he joined UW-Madison - as a faculty member in the Chemistry Department. In 1964, with his graduate student Richard Nicholson, they published a research paper that provided the theoretical underpinning for the electrochemical theory that was missing. It was cited many times and brought a great deal of national and international attention to the chemistry department and his work. Shain rose to become chairman of the chemistry department in 1967, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in 1970, and later Chancellor of UW-Madison from 1977 through 1987. The faculty of the chemistry department, led by Professor Bassam Shakashiri, honored him by naming the new Research Tower after him in 2006. In 2016, family and friends endowed the Irving Shain Chair in the Chemistry Department - to be permanently held by the current department chair to support their research while they served in the administrative role.

As Chancellor, Shain left his imprint on the University as the driving force behind several important initiatives including the establishment of the UW Research Park, the School of Veterinary Medicine, and the then new UW Hospital on the far west end of campus. While controversial at the time, it established what has become today the major center for patient care, medical research, and pharmacy and nursing education all situated together and anchoring that end of campus. After his retirement from UW in 1987, Shain joined Olin Corporation in Stamford, CT as Vice President of Research and Development and a member of the Board of Directors.

Shain was an avid reader, photographer, and traveler - enjoying many trips over the years including several to China where he established one of the first educational exchange programs between UW-Madison and China. This early collaboration lead to many successful international students coming to UW-Madison enriching the experience for all students. He was always happy to share his travel experiences, recommendations, and a few slides with others. 

His other passion was classical music. His interest began with playing the flute in school orchestras and culminated as a member of the Seattle Symphony for a brief period prior to his service in World War II. Together with his wife Millie, they established endowments to support two student competitions in the School of Music to recognize excellence in classical music performance with the winners receiving academic scholarships and performing a concert for the public. 

He was preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Millie in 2015. He is survived by his four children, Kathy Shain (Mark Walsh), Steve Shain (Roxanne), John Shain (Leslie) and Paul Shain (Suzy). In addition, he is survived by three grandchildren, Nathan Shain (Angel), Isabel Shain, and William Shain.

A public gathering to remember his life will be held on Monday, March 12, 2018 from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Ave. Madison, WI 53705. At his request, a private funeral service will be held for family only. Memorial donations can be made to the University of Wisconsin Foundation 1848 University Avenue, Madison WI 53726, or online at:, to support the Irv Shain Memorial Fund for Chemistry. All donations will go to support the new Chemistry Department Building Fund, a project that is critical for UW-Madison. 

Special thanks to the caregivers at Attic Angels, to Dr. Dennis Maki, and to Sharon Borland, who was a special friend and caregiver to Irv over the last few months. He leaves behind an incredible legacy and many special friends. Please share a memory.

Cress Center
6021 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 238-8406

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