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A Mind and Heart at Work

by Clare Coppa

Listening to their father’s lectures at the dinner table in the 1940s, Mary Ann Worthington and her siblings got hooked on science—she became a chemist and her brothers, chemical engineers.

Worthington is the vice chairman of ASTM Committee E01 on Analytical Chemistry for Metals, Ores and Related Materials. Chemists provide invaluable pre-certification of product materials. “It is awe-inspiring, because most people don’t think about it, and the reason they don’t, is that chemistry has done such a good job,” she said.

Fresh out of the University of Massachusetts in 1958, Worthington took part in developing a new class of synergistic polyethylene antioxidants containing conjugated hydrocarbons and sulfur-containing organic compounds for Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. Deciphered, this means she helped to develop better coatings for colored telephone wires.

During two years at Bell, she completed nine publications and three patents, showing early signs of what ASTM manager Tom O’Toole calls a knack for pinning down logical solutions to the many challenges of standards development. “I really do love research and methods development and methods documentation,” she said. “It’s a nice feeling to write a method—whether it’s an in-house method or an ASTM method—and have all the directions down on paper, crystal clear, so someone can follow them, use them, and get the correct results.”

Relocating to Connecticut, Worthington spent the next 18 years teaching chemistry at the University of Bridgeport while raising three children with husband Dave, a telephone company manager. Later, she moved to Handy and Harman in Fairfield, where she worked for two decades, becoming chief chemist. During this time, she chaired ASTM Subcommittees E03.05 on Non-Ferrous Metals and E01.03 on Precious Metals, and served on the Committee on Standards.

Her father may have liked science but was a Methodist minister by profession, active in community outreach. An arm of a World War II relief effort organized by numerous churches, CROP (Communities’ Response to Others’ Poverty) intrigued Worthington as a girl and became a lifetime activity.

“In 1945, we got an urgent call, ‘Have a clothing drive, winter is coming over in Europe and we need used, warm clothing of any sort.’ Our church put together a number of boxes and in one of the boxes, I included my name and address. I was nine years old. Lo and behold, I received a wonderful letter from Salome Rohaly, a Lutheran minister’s daughter in Hungary. She described how wonderful it was to have warm clothes and she and I became penpals.”

Since 1975, Worthington has helped to organize the Greater Bridgeport CROP Hunger Walk. Last year, it raised $80,000; 25 percent aided the needy in Connecticut and the remainder went to refugee rehabilitation and disaster relief in areas such as Kosovo and Turkey.

Worthington volunteers to end hunger for children in memory of her son Bruce, who died at age three from birth defects. “I thought about normal living children,” she recalled. “They have every chance for life, and they’re either going to starve to death or die of a disease related to malnutrition? Thanks to CROP walk, more children have a chance.”

Copyright 2001, ASTM

(photo, left)

ASTM Committee E01 Vice Chairman Mary Ann Worthington pours juice at one of 30 sites created by residents of greater Bridgeport, Conn., to aid the underprivileged.