John I. Wick, a retired staff member in the chemistry department of the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences who died Oct. 31, 2018 at 88, is remembered as an indispensable aide to the department during his 33 years at Pitt.
“His official working title was director of the departmental stock rooms, but John’s unofficial duties were legendary,” recalled W. Richard Howe, a chemistry department administrator beginning in 1970 and retired associate dean for Administration and Planning in the Dietrich School. “When he started in the department, the size of its staff was minimal and the diversity of duties he and others fulfilled went far beyond any of their specified job descriptions.”
Noting that Wick was a Korean War veteran, Howe compared Wick’s impressive efficiency to the “wheeling and dealing” of the “M*A*S*H” character Corporal Max Klinger: “So too did John find ways to make things happen for the faculty and other staff within the chemistry department. He developed a very effective operating network that connected the department with facilities management, purchasing, central receiving, the movers and all other logistical central services ….
“Because of his ability to pull off one unexpected magical solution after another, he quickly became the hero of many of the graduate students who needed all the help they could summon. … If you needed a 5-gallon container of an unusual organic solvent, go see John Wick. If you needed an emergency team to clean up a nasty chemical spill in your labs, go see John Wick. If you needed to find a way to have a research proposal in the hands of a federal funding agency by morning” – in the days before overnight delivery was common – “go see John Wick.”
Added Howe: “John also served as the sage dispenser of non-academic information that graduate students were afraid to seek from their faculty advisors. He often dispensed advice shrouded with a heavy dose of humor and served with a side dose of departmental history.”
Wick coordinated the department’s relocation from six scattered buildings to its new location, now the Chevron Science Center, in 1974. He began his Pitt career as the department’s assistant stockroom clerk and later became the stockroom manager and operations manager. He also served on the departmental safety committee.
Greg Meisner, executive assistant to the chemistry department chairman and laboratory manager, 1976-2003, was Wick’s supervisor from 1976 until Wick’s retirement in the 1980s.
“John was known by an enormous number of students, post-docs, faculty and staff during his 33 years at Pitt,” Meisner said. “He made a particular effort to develop the skills and career of stockroom clerks that he supervised. Several advanced to the purchasing department and one took his position when he retired.
Wick was born Oct. 25, 1930, in New Castle. During the Korean War, he served in the Air Force in Korea and then at the Air Force research center in Cambridge, Mass.
He is survived by his wife Ruth, sons David and Timothy, sister Jane Anne, six grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the American Cancer Society.