BS ’75 UNO, PhD ’80 LSU
Retired as Best Practices Manager, Lanxess Corporation Orange, TX EPDM Plant
Errol Olivier grew up in New Orleans, LA. He married his high school sweetheart, Cindy Lecler, upon her graduation from LSU Nursing School in 1974. Errol himself was an undergraduate at the University of New Orleans where he was introduced to organic synthesis in the laboratory of Professor John Stowell and received his BS in Chemistry in 1975.
In Fall 1975, Errol joined the LSU Chemistry PhD program. Of that time, he says, “Although I grew up in a big city, I was quite provincial when I arrived at LSU. The exposure to new ideas and broader horizons from students from other backgrounds and especially the professors, changed the ways that I looked at the world in many ways.” He joined Professor Klaus Fischer’s research group wherein he was involved in the isolation of natural products, including 9-acetoxymelnerins A and B, two novel sesquiterpene lactones. His investigations of the chemistry of these compounds gave strong evidence of the biogenesis of melampolide sesquiterpene lactones from cis,cis-germacranolides, an idea that was suggested in the earlier work of the late Don Perry, who was Dr. Professor Fischer’s first doctoral student. With Klaus and Helga, Errol was the co-author on a review titled, “The Biogenesis and Chemistry of Sequiterpene Lactones” [Fortschritte der Chemie Organischer Naturstoffe, 1979, 38, 47-390]. His graduate work in natural products gave him a strong background in separations and spectral identification of compounds. He defended his dissertation, titled, “The Structure Elucidation of Germacranolide Sesquiterpene Lactones of the Genus Melampodium by Chemical and Spectral Methods,” in Fall 1980. Besides Professors Fischer and Daly, Errol’s horizons were broadened through his association with Dr. Leo Quijano, who was a visiting researcher in the “Fischer Fytochemical Farm” in the late 70’s. Leo was visiting from UNAM in Mexico City. His generous sharing of knowledge and lab skills created a mentor relationship that has lasted throughout the years. When Leo was presented a lifetime achievement award at a Phytochemical symposium in Merida, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico in 2014, Errol and some other students were surprise guests.
Looking back, Errol recognizes that “all of the professors I knew took a real interest in the graduate students. That made learning easier, and it went beyond the technical material.” He has fond memories of his role as a Teaching Assistant at LSU, supporting Dr Fischer and Dr Daly at different times. Professor Bill Daly placed a strong emphasis on polymer chemistry and that turned out to be incredibly valuable to Errol. He learned a lot teaching organic chemistry labs, including a section for chemistry majors that included Cynthia Belcher (now Cynthia Peterson, LSU Dean of Science). As it should be, throughout graduate studies, Errol acknowledges that he “was able to get all the help I needed to get started at the beginning, and by the end of my training I felt confident that I was directing my own work.”
In 1981, the newly minted Dr Olivier interviewed for a job a Copolymer Rubber and Chemical Corporation. They were initiating a large-scale process for modifying polyolefin polymers, and they were looking for a chemist with interest and training in both organic chemistry and polymers. “It was a job that was made for me!” recalls Olivier. Thus, for the next 25 years, he worked at Copolymer, in Baton Rouge, engaged in activities that included polymer grafting, blends and alloys, polymerizable antioxidants and modified polymers for oil additive applications. Olivier holds several patents in the area of plastic/rubber blends, polymers for oil additives, and polymerizable antioxidants.
Copolymer was acquired by Netherlands-based, multinational company DSM and, in 2005, they trimmed the Baton Rouge area operations. Errol continued to work out of an office in Baton Rouge, working closely with the laboratories in Geleen, The Netherlands. He eventually transferred to Geleen and enjoyed living and working amongst the Dutch people for three years.
In 2011, the business was sold to Lanxess, a spinoff of Bayer, and the world’s largest producer of synthetic rubber. Errol was offered a position at the Lanxess plant in Orange, Texas, to improve quality and reduce losses at the EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) plant. They were pleased to move home to USA; as Cindy Olivier says, “5000 miles closer to her family!” They enjoyed living in the “golden triangle” of Southeast Texas where, the locals say, “Cajun meets cowboy.” Errol retired in 2014 and he and Cindy continued to live in Beaumont for five years.
Recently, Errol and Cindy relocated to Jacksonville, Florida, where they will be closer to two grandchildren. They also have a son and grandkids in Alburquerque. En route to New Mexico, Errol says, “I always looked for opportunities to stop and visit Klaus and Helga … now living near Dallas.” Having lost his father at the age of 20, Errol greatly appreciates the privilege of being associated with Klaus and Helga, all these years. He says, “Klaus and his wife Helga were like parents to all of his students.” In late May 2019, Errol and Cindy visited LSU, to deliver some precious memorabilia from Professor Fischer.
As always, we asked Errol if he would do anything differently if he could have his career over again. He responded, “Either I have been incredibly fortunate, or a higher power has guided my steps and corrected by mis-steps. So I don’t think I would change anything.” In terms of advice to current graduate students: “Always be open-minded. Sometimes the solution is not what you would expect. Always be open to learn and grow. That will benefit you in your career and as a person. Cherish your mentors and your teachers. They have your best interests at heart. And always practice the Golden Rule.”
Errol Olivier revisits his lab on the 7th floor of Choppin Hall, May 31st, 2019.
Errol and Cindy Olivier having coffee with Dean Peterson in CMB.
Profiled compiled by Carol M. Taylor