Henry George Petrow, 90, died August 8, 2017 in Peekskill, N.Y. His six children and three of his grandchildren were with him in his final days. Henry was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on January 6, 1927, to George C. Petrow and Jennie W. Breitenkamp of Greek and German immigrant families. He grew up in Webster City, Iowa and Cambridge, Mass. He attended Cambridge Latin School and Harvard College (class of 1948). A U.S. Navy veteran, he served in the Pacific theatre during World War II as an Electronic Technician’s Mate. He completed his S.B. (1949) and A.M. (1950) at Harvard University, and Ph.D. (1966) at New York University.
Described as “being on a first name basis with all the elements,” Henry directed chemical research and development programs for a number of companies, and taught at New York University and at Yale University. As a chemist and inventor, he was awarded some 35 U.S. patents and published 40 scientific papers. His research focused on peaceful applications of atomic energy, desalination, and documenting health risks of radiation exposure. A guiding principle of his was “that our products assist rather than massacre mankind.” Applications from his inventions ranged from the personal (cordless hair curler, flameless heaters, self-cleaning ovens and stovetops, antiperspirants, permanent wave solutions, and chlorine neutralizing soaps and shampoos) to those with wide economic and environmental impact (flame retardant for plastics and textiles; fume abatement processes for coffee and wood pulp manufacturing; and platinum catalyst technology for fuel cells and automotive catalytic converters).
He pursued his extracurricular interests with equal intensity: family camping in national parks, fresh water fishing, and cooking (recipes such as an acclaimed salad dressing delivered in sulfuric acid bottles). He was devoted to classical music and had encyclopedic knowledge of traditional jazz. His irreverent sense of humor and progressive Democratic politics were a trademark.
In retirement he lived with his wife Shelley for 25 years in Atascadero, California where he hiked more than 10,000 miles with his canine companions Dobie Bessie and Shepherd Billie.
Henry was predeceased by his brother Jack and wife Madalen, brother Chris, stepdaughter Laura Lowery, and two wives, Lisa (Mintz) and Shelley Merrill. He is survived by his children Jan Petrow (David Buskin) of Katonah N.Y., Christopher (Carol Balgaroo) of Manhasset N.Y., Daniel (Pamela Hudson) of New City N.Y., Jonathan of Brooklyn N.Y., Jenny (Adam Mazmanian) of Washington D.C., and Eliza of Watertown Mass.; seven grandchildren: Jane and Samuel Holloway, James and Caroline Petrow, Nicolas and Leo Mazmanian, and Henry Parsons Petrow; and stepdaughters Amanda Merrill and Charlotte Durnin. He is also survived by his former wife and friend, Elizabeth Parsons of Watertown, MA and an extended family of nieces, nephews, cousins, grandnephews, grandnieces and step grandchildren.
A private family memorial will be held in September in Katonah, NY. Donations in Henry’s honor may be made to the National Park of your choice.
“Bloom where you are planted.”