In Memoriam: Cornelius Steelink

In Memoriam: Cornelius Steelink

By University Communications
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Cornelius Steelink conducting research. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Steelink)
Cornelius Steelink conducting research. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Steelink)
Cornelius Steelink (Photo courtesy of Laurie Steelink)
Cornelius Steelink (Photo courtesy of Laurie Steelink)

Cornelius "Corny" Steelink, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, died on Nov. 12 at the age of 94 following heart surgery.

Steelink, a longtime equal rights activist, met his first wife, Jean, on a picket line in Southern California. The couple moved to Tucson in 1957 when Steelink became an assistant professor of chemistry at the UA.

Almost immediately after they arrived, the Steelinks became involved in a chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. In 1959, Steelink helped found the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A longtime friend of Steelink's, Barbara Elfbrandt, said that he believed in equal rights for everyone and was always a peaceful protester.

"He had a great sense of humor, he was always generous with his time and was very perceptive of people's rights," Elfbrandt said. "He was willing to put his own body on the line for that."

During World War II, Steelink ­ – a conscientious objector – was placed in a Civilian Public Service camp, and built roads, fought forest fires and filled in for men who were drafted in the war. Elfbrandt said that after his years of service, Steelink attended reunions in Southern California to see some of the men he served with while he was in the camp.

During his time at the UA, Steelink was an active member of the Faculty Senate and served as president of the UA chapter of the American Association of University Professors and as chair of the faculty. He also served as a consultant to the city of Tucson and environmental agencies on issues related to water quality and air pollution.

Steelink retired from the UA in 1993.

Following Jean's death in 2001, Steelink remarried and spent half of his time in Southern California with his wife, Joanne.

Steelink is survived by his wife, Joanne Whittington Steelink; daughters Laurie Steelink and Kaye Wingfield; Joanne's children, Ruth Whittington, Blair Whittington and David Whittington; and grandchildren.  

A celebration of life will be held in Tucson at the Unitarian Universalist Church in at 4831 E. 22nd St. on Jan. 14 at 1 p.m.

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