Pioneering Research Chemist Robert Webb Dies He Got Fragrances from Turpentine

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessie-Lynne Kerr, Times-Union staff writer

Robert L. Webb of Orange Park, a pioneering research chemist who 50 years ago developed a commercially viable process for turning turpentine from pine trees into flavors and fragrances, died Friday at Baptist Medical Center of bladder cancer. He was 75.

Funeral will be at 11 a.m. today in Advent Lutheran Church, 2156 Loch Rane Blvd., with burial in Magnolia Cemetery.

Born in Topeka, Kan., Mr. Webb came to Jacksonville in 1950 after graduating from Washburn University to work as a research chemist at the Glidden Co.

While many people look at fast-growing long-needle slash pine trees that abound in this area as sap-dripping cone-dropping, needle-littering and pollen-spreading nuisances, Mr. Webb looked at their positive potential.

"I see a pine tree as a tremendously complicated chemical factory," he said in a 1987 interview in the Times-Union. In the early 1950s, in an un-air-conditioned lab on Jacksonville's Northside, Mr. Webb developed the process that now is the basis for a worldwide fragrance and flavor industry and one that had pumped millions of dollars into the Jacksonville economy over the years.

You can literally taste the labor of Mr. Webb's persistent experimentation in toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamin pills and candies and smell them in your perfumes, soaps and detergents.

When the Jacksonville Section of the American Chemical Society gave Mr. Webb its first-ever award in 1987, the citation said that his work "in terpene synthesis has led to a $100 million-a-year industry in Northeast Florida where forest products have been a mainstay of the local economy for more than 200 years."

In 1960, he left Glidden to work for a British chemical company in London. He then had his own research firm until joining Union Camp Corp. …

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