Lois K. Ongley

Dr. Lois K. Ongley, a scientist and Wilton High School graduate, died on Saturday, Nov. 16, surrounded by her family.

She is survived by her husband, William Todd-Brown; daughters Katherine, Margaret, and Jessica Todd-Brown; her parents Constance and George Ongley of Wilton, and siblings Steven Ongley of Madison, Lisa Gardner of Stamford, and Loren Neill of Clarkston, Wash.

She graduated from Wilton High School in 1969 and Middlebury College in 1973 with a B.A. in geology. She became the first woman at Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory to work as a shipboard technician on an oceanographic research vessel. Somewhere in the North Atlantic she lost the tip of a finger when a piece of equipment slipped. In 1977, she earned an M.S. in geology at Texas A&M University, where she met her husband Bill while looking for rock climbing partners.

After graduate school, she worked as a petroleum geologist in Norman, Okla., where her first daughter Kathe was born. She was the founding vice president of the Oklahoma chapter of the Association of Women Geoscientists. The family then moved to Houston, where twin daughters Margaret and Jessica were born. She remained in Texas for additional graduate work, earning a Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering from Rice University.

After finishing her Ph.D., she taught at Bates College, where she indulged her love of travel by teaching short geology courses in Saudi Arabia and leading summer research projects in Mexico. She also taught chemistry at Oak Hill High School in Wales, Maine.

At the time of her death, Dr. Ongley had been teaching geochemistry at Unity College for seven years.

She was a passionate instructor, loved by her students and admired by her peers, and a widely recognized expert on arsenic in groundwater, her family said.  While working at Unity, she traveled to Bangladesh to organize low-cost chemistry education packets on behalf of Chemists Without Borders.

She loved her adopted home state of Maine, sleepy cats near wood fire stoves, her friends and family, unusual rocks, and traveling to new places, her family said.

A memorial service will take place in Maine in December.

Comments from Dr. Ongley’s students:

Diane Erskine — Lois, I will miss your stories of years gone by since we were both students of the 70’s, and I will miss the times we spent at Colby as we studied new Literacy Strategies and I will miss the times we did go swimming and I will miss the kindness you showed to my son at both Oak Hill and Unity but most of all I will miss you. Your friend always, Diane

Dorothea LaBrie-Sites — I had her as my high school chemistry teacher. I wished I had realized what a truly remarkable woman she is then. I’ll always remember her excitement for the periodic table song and how she would sing along. She inspired me to learn and to try.

Robert Badger — Lois and I took every class at Middlebury together, and partnered on most lab projects. We also almost shared a birthday — one day apart, and every year would celebrate our birthdays together. Even in years when she had a boyfriend, she would leave him behind and the two of us would enjoy the evening together on the town.

We went to national GSA together in the fall of ’72, our senior year, in Minneapolis, staying with her aunt who lived in St. Paul. We were both in the job market and scoured the positions open board that GSA used to have for folks to sign up for interviews. There were only three jobs that didn’t require a Ph.D, so she signed up with two and I signed up for tow, overlapping on one. For the one we overlapped on, Lois went first and I waited outside. Apparently the interviewer said they didn’t have a job for someone like her, but he could offer her a secretary’s job, as it was really helpful to have a secretary who knew a lot…

Ellen Batchelder — Lois was away from the Unity College campus for much of the time I have been here, but she was always kind and helpful to me and a fierce advocate for students. I was glad to have known her, even for a short time.

Lindsay Bates — I spent many years staying at your house and running around Bates. I have many memories. One that has always stuck with me, is when you took me hiking for the very first time. I believe I was in 4th grade. We went to Tumbledown. I had a great time. I remember getting to the top looking at the view and just being in awe. You made me enjoy hiking, and the outdoors even more. Another thing was your passion for unfortunate animals. So much love giving them a place to stay, with some hope. Very great woman. I will always remember you.

Trish Buls — I met your family shortly after you moved to Maine and luckily Rose and Kathy and Lila and Jes became friends. Lois was always so calm, unconcerned about the little things, always had a smile and was always doing something interesting. Whether it was Girl Scouts, her latest scientific endeavor, or being a medic for school sports, I knew I’d always find Lois abustle and with an interesting tale. She was a great mother — just look at her interesting and beautiful daughters for proof.

Stephanie Meyer — An amazing woman and professor. She made a huge impact on so many students, and she wont be forgotten. For some of us it was just a simple chem class, and for others so much more, but she had an impact on us all. She was brilliant and kind, and a wonderful influence. She will always be amongst some of my fonder moments at Unity, and it is a tragic loss for the students to come who will not be able to share in those memories.

Kate McDonald (Heggerman) — Lois was an amazing mentor and friend. I was one of her last two students at Bates, and I feel so fortunate to have had the privilege to learn from her. She threw great parties at her place on Russell Street. She taught me how to play dominoes while Maggie and Jes got to laugh at my  incompetence and when I took the dare to try some of Bill’s mouth-melting salsa. I learned that Real Chili doesn’t have tomatoes in it, and that the best way to get cat hair off your job interview clothes is to give up trying and go shopping at Mardens. After Bates, I had the privilege of working with her and her Unity College students on several service learning projects, and we even collaborated on a conference presentation last year. The world has lost an amazing soul. Women scientists have lost a tireless advocate. I have lost a good friend whom I didn’t see often enough. I will continue to try to be the woman and scientist she told me I could be. Much love to Bill,  Kathe, Jes and Maggie, and just as Lois taught me — my door is always open if you’re in the neighborhood.

Chris O’Rhys — I didn’t think I’d enjoy chemistry, but Lois made the class fun. I learned that chemistry is just math with letters, and I loved it. Jes T was my lab partner. We had many whispered discussions about how we needed to b e precise and clear about everything because Lois wouldn’t cut us any slack. I think the experiment with copper was my favorite from the series. She always had time to talk to us, no matter how many questions we had or what we wanted to discuss.

I also got the chance to be a house guest at their home for a few days. And it is a home, not just a house. Lois was much the same there as she was on campus — kind, calm, soothing, and always read to talk about anything and everything under the sun. I’m glad I got to know he and to learn from her. Much love to Jes and the entire family.

Kate Oz (Osborne) — Lois was one of the best teachers/professors/mentors I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I was randomly assigned to her as a first year student of Bates, and little did I know what adventures she had in store for me. We made scones in her kitchen, presented findings of a research project on Women in Geoscience in Utah, got shot at in Mexico (true story,) sunk piezometers in a bog in Lewiston, gave a presentation about GIS mapping in DC, and enjoyed many a conversation in her office about topics not related to geology or chemistry. She was so proud of her family, so caring of her students, and would pull out all the stops to make sure that every single student understood  what she was teaching. Her encouragement to always stretch and try for something you thought was out of reach has stayed with me for the last 18 years. I will miss her.

Jessica Malasics — I was deeply saddened when I heard the news that Lois had passed away. She was such an amazing teacher. Chemistry isn’t an easy subject, but she had a way to make it easier for you to understand. She truly cared for each and everyone of her students and was more than willing to aide you if you needed help. She will be missed.

Deborah Black — I had really dreaded having to take chemistry. The universe apparently took this into consideration and gave me Professor Ongley. I did not like it any better but I appreciated the time and patience she took to work with me. She was a great teacher and person. She was one of my many positive and fond memories of Unity College.

Kate Sullenger — I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She always supported and encouraged me. Cheers to the woman who “wasn’t allowed in public” like me.

Sandy Olson — Always game to learn something new as well as teach whomever asked to be taught. Every day she opened her heart and her home. One amazing strong woman. I will miss you.

Luis Martin — So sorry to hear. I really enjoyed her classes. It was so obvious that she  loved her subject and was still fascinated by it.

Angela Jackson —Lois was a phenomenal teacher and wonderful human being. She was kind enough to offer me a place to stay when I seemed lost. Thanks you all for allowing me into our home and Mallie thoroughly enjoyed the time she got to spend with your kind and loving family.

Jennifer Whelan — Lois was, and is — part of my Unity family. She was a very generous and caring person and left an impression on everyone who crossed her path. After my husband became ill, she helped us in many little ways that made a big difference to the two of us. Strength and love to her family.

Patricia Emens Clark — We will all remember her, not just for her dedicated work at Unity College, but also her work with local organizations such as the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Unity Barn Raisers, and Unity Historical Society, and her work around the world with Chemists Without Borders. We were all lucky and honored to know her.

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