Rita Rose Boggs, Ph.D.
March 20, 1938 – August 10, 2019
Educator, Entrepreneur, Citizen Activist
Dr. Rita Boggs was an educator-chemist who mentored young people entering the chemical professions, an entrepreneur-chemist who championed fair employment practices, a scientific work product of high integrity, professional involvement, and professional development, and a citizen-activist who helped her community understand and confront chemical pollution and safety issues. She spoke inconvenient truths to power, and held everyone’s feet to the fire as she pushed people to do their honest best for the greater good. A 30-year Carson, CA resident and Staten Island, NY native, Rita passed away on August 10, 2019. A breast cancer and lymphoma survivor, Rita lost her feisty stubborn life-force to complications of dementia.
As a youngster, Rita was athletic and enjoyed playing softball and basketball wherever she could find a game. Because her mother insisted that Rita finish her homework before playing outside, Rita developed a strong academic work ethic and excelled scholastically. She joined the varsity basketball team when she was admitted to St. Joseph Hill Academy of Staten Island, where she excelled. Inspired by her high school chemistry teacher, Rita majored in chemistry at Notre Dame College of Staten Island, a premier women’s small college. A leader even then, Rita was captain of the basketball team and served as student body president.
Following receipt of her B.A. degree, Rita spent 14 years as a Roman Catholic nun teaching chemistry at Notre Dame High School in Schenectady NY. While a high school chemistry teacher, Rita was among the first to teach the Chem Study Program. Several of her high school students went on to pursue PhD’s in chemistry as a result of this highly successful pedagogy. During her years in Schenectady, Rita also studied for and received her M.S. in chemistry at Union College. Because Union College was not yet a co-educational institution, Rita had to perform her research and studies in the evening, when she would not compete for facilities with the all-male student body. After receiving her M.S., Rita taught chemistry at her alma mater, Notre Dame College of Staten Island NY. With little urging from the college president, Rita enrolled in the PhD program at University of Pennsylvania to study physical chemistry under the guidance of Professor Jerry Donohue. Her PhD Thesis was entitled “The Crystal and Molecular Structures of l-tyrosine, trans-4a-acetoxy-8a-chloro-1,4,4a,5,8,8a-hexahydronaphthalene, spermine copper(II) perchlorate and auromycin hydrochloride”. In other words, her doctoral work involved determining the crystal and molecular structures of some biologically important molecules, which resulted in five published papers. Rita’s plan for her Ph.D. was to become a full chemistry professor back at Notre Dame College. However, these years were difficult times for small colleges to survive, and when this college was reorganized and consolidated with St. John’s University, Rita parted from her religious order, The Congregation of Notre Dame, and went on to do postdoctoral research at Cornell University.
Rita’s first post-graduate job in industry was as Senior Research Chemist at the Colgate Palmolive Research and Development Center in New Jersey, where she worked in the New Science division, performing basic remineralization research on oral care products, and problem-solving for production issues associated with the non-phosphate version of Fresh Start laundry detergent. Always a leader, and interested in moving into management, Rita spent six months in a marketing and management training program at the Colgate corporate headquarters in New York City, as well as a summer at MIT’s School of Management. She was ready to move up the corporate ladder as a technical manager but in those days the glass ceiling was difficult to bypass.
Rita moved to Southern California in 1979 to take a management position with U.S. Testing Company. Here, she was Assistant Vice President of the California Division, and Director of the Chemistry and Textile groups. She was responsible for equipping, staffing, and directing the company’s new chemistry department. As an executive with hiring and salary-negotiation power, she discovered and corrected systematic wage discrimination for women at the company. Sensitive to employment issues during this time of recession, and pay inequities for women in the chemical profession, Rita became involved with the Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society around this time. She started by chairing the Employment Committee and establishing an employment opportunities announcement mechanism. Her involvement with the Local ACS Section led to her 1981 participation as a mentor at a first-of-its-kind professional women’s networking conference in Los Angeles, “Women in Science”. During her turn as speaker, Rita told the next generation of women scientists to advance their professional careers by joining and becoming active in their professional societies.
In 1982, Rita founded her own company, American Research and Testing Inc. Initially a testing laboratory focused on quality assurance testing of materials and consumer products, Rita expanded the scope to contract research and consulting. While President of the company, she was principle investigator for five contract research projects, served in technical services sales capacity, and supervised day-to-day operations of the company. Her teaching experience gave her an excellent public presence, which allowed her to serve as a much-sought expert witness for a variety of winning civil litigation cases involving product failure claims that her company had been hired to investigate.
Throughout her years at the helm of American Research and Testing Inc., Rita continued to teach part time at the local colleges – at El Camino Community College in the early 1980’s, and California State University Dominguez Hills from 1985 to 2008. A proponent of higher education and post-graduate education, Rita mentored many chemistry students on their career paths, as well as encouraged and supported continuing education for her own laboratory staff. She was a frequent guest lecturer at local colleges, speaking about chemistry careers.
Rita’s initial involvement with the Southern California Section of the ACS – on the Employment Committee in 1980 – grew to increasing levels of responsibility and leadership. Besides serving as Section Chair in 1990, she chaired the Directory, Employment, Tolman Award, and Nominations/Elections Committees, as well as volunteered to be Registration Chair and Exhibits Chair for three Western Regional Meetings. The year Rita was Chair of the local Section (1990), she averted the Section from certain financial disaster by moving the Section administrative office and archives to her place of business, and training/supervising the Section’s administrative staff for the next 8 years. For this, the Southern California Section ACS named Rita Boggs as the 1992 recipient of the Agnes Ann Green Distinguished Service Award.
When Agnes Ann Green retired from Section leadership in 1993, Rita Boggs took her place as Southern California Section ACS Councilor and served continuously in that capacity until 2015. A force to be reckoned with when it comes to fairness and opportunity, Rita was a strong advocate of adequate travel reimbursement to Councilors attending national ACS meetings on behalf of their Sections, serving on the Task Force on councilor reimbursement policy in 1995 and 1998. For her volunteerism and leadership roles, Rita was elevated to the rank of ACS Fellow in 2010, and honored with the Western Region ACS Ann Nalley Award for Volunteer Service in 2013.
After retiring from day-to-day operations at American Research and Testing Inc. in 2008, Rita focused her attention to her long-time interest in local civics and community activism in the City of Carson. Initiated by Carson residents’ need for sound scientific explanation of safety issues involving a local petroleum plant expansion years earlier, Rita became involved with local politics as the voice of scientific thought and reason. She was an appointed member of the City of Carson Planning Commission, served on the Mobile Home Rental Review Board, and was a cog in many Community Action Groups. Always the teacher, ever the chemist, she frequently found herself explaining environmental impact reports and other technical matters to the local residents and city officials. For her long-time civic involvement, the City of Carson gave Rita a beautiful Proclamation of Recognition in 2019.
Rita is survived by her nieces Sandy and Caroline, nephews Wayne, Tom, and Greg, many cousins, her vast network of fellow activists and volunteers, and her dedicated care team Martha, Nancy, Pam, and Barbara. Rita’s final resting place is at Holmdel Cemetery in New Jersey where she joins her parents, Thomas and Rita Boggs, and her sister, Irene Farmer.
In Rita’s memory, please consider donating to ACS Scholars, an American Chemical Society program designed to support disadvantaged college students majoring in chemistry.