Dr. Milam Stephen Burnaby Munson

Dr. Milam Stephen Burnaby Munson, retired University of Delaware chemistry professor, award-winning researcher and venerated director of the Honors Program who taught tens of thousands of UD students for more than 50 years, passed away June 23, 2019 at the age of 86, in Newark, Del. of acute heart failure.

Burnaby was born on March 20, 1933 in Wharton to Milam Stephen Munson, Jr. and Emily Elizabeth Burnaby. His father, his paternal grandfather, (Judge Milam Stephen Munson), and his paternal great-grandfather (Mordello Stephen Munson) were all lawyers and his mother was a librarian. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, his stepmother Sarah Estelle Hancock and sister Bettie Munson Patton. He is survived by a niece, Joyce P. Kavanagh, a nephew, Ward C. Patton III, both of Appleton, Wisc. and a nephew, Stephen Michael Patton of Rock Island, Ill., as well as one grand-niece and two grand-nephews.

Burnaby was schooled in his hometown of Wharton, Texas and attended both John Tarleton College and University of Texas before earning his doctorate in physical chemistry in 1959 from UT. He also studied at the University of Wisconsin. He worked for Esso (now Exxon) Research and Engineering as a research chemist until joining University of Delaware’s Chemistry Department in 1967. (Although he lived as a Chemist in Newark, Delaware, Burnaby continued to maintain and frequently visit his family home in Wharton throughout his life where he traveled throughout the State of Texas visiting lifelong friends.)

As an analytical and physical chemist, Dr. Munson’s research focused on mass spectrometry, a field where he had an important impact and for which he received numerous awards. His research was cited by the Nobel committee when it awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize to John Fenn and Koichi Tanakak. Dr. Munson’s work on chemical ionization mass spectrometry made it possible to obtain informative mass spectra of high-molecular weight and sensitive compounds. At the University of Delaware, he taught in the Honors Program from 1976 until his retirement in 2017 and also served on its advisory board in the 1970s and ‘80s and continued as director for many years.

He was a generous philanthropic contributor to Tarleton State University, as well as the University of Delaware, supporting student enrichment experiences toward the Honors Program.

One of many quotes from distinguished university chemists: “Burnaby Munson was the embodiment of a modern-day Mr. Chips! During the 65 years that chemistry has served as the center point of my educational and professional life, I have never known anyone who exhibited the total commitment to the academic enterprise that Burnaby did.”

Close friends and family are invited to the home of Marilyn Munson Clark in Wharton on Saturday, Sept. 28 for a celebration of Burnaby’s life. Come to 1111 Knox Lane, in the Caney Trails subdivision where all will be encouraged to share stories and fond memories from 4-6 p.m. From there, s invited to caravan 34 miles to the Munson Family Cemetery at Bailey’s Prairie near East Columbia. For more information and to RSVP send emails to ajmaclark@gmail.com

As the product of three generations of lawyers in keeping with his trademark sense of humor, Dr. Munson chose this epitaph for his grave marker:

“A Chemist, not a Lawyer.”

A memorial service for Dr. Munson will be held at 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, in Mitchell Hall, on the Newark campus, University of Delaware.

Contributions in memory of Dr. Munson can be made to The Harward and Munson fund for Honors Undergraduate Research at the University of Delaware. Please send contributions to: University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 East Main St. 3rd Fl Newark, DE 19716

Make checks payable to “University of Delaware” and include the name of the fund on the memo line.

Tributes can be left on Dr. Munson’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/burnaby.munson).