Evan Peter Kyba
June 27, 1940 – September 15, 2019
Evan Peter Kyba, PhD, departed this life peacefully at home in the care of his loving family. The essence of Evan’s life is embodied in his response to his last years. Although he faced complicated health challenges with cardiac and renal disease since 2015, he lived life intellectually engaged, persistent, positive though realistic, grateful, gracious, and with true courage, always mindful of the impact on family and friends. “The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.” (Michel de Montaigne, philosopher)
Evan determined the game he fought so valiantly had run its course. He chose to forgo further medical treatment and to spend his last days with his devoted family, in the comfort of his home with hospice care. True to his competitive nature, Evan summed up his decision to Ferne, his soulmate and best friend for 57 years, this way: “There’s 2 minutes left in the game and the score is 50-0.” Evan lived life fully and did so his way, right to the end.
Evan was kind, fun-loving, loyal, generous, and humble. He was devoted to his family and treasured his friends. Left to cherish and carry on Evan’s big-hearted legacy of unconditional love are his wife, Ferne, and their beloved children: son Kevan, “daughter”(-in-law) Suzanne, a perfect grandson, Ashdon, of Austin; his sister, Karen Donahue, Calgary, AB, Canada; cherished Canadian cousins; and a world-wide circle of friends. All will miss forever Evan’s authenticity, sharp wit, knowing smile, and strong character; though some will be relieved that their grammatical imperfections are no longer pointed out. Evan is predeceased by his father, Peter Kyba (1971), mother Mary (Keaschuk) Kyba (1995), and brother-in-law James Runquist (2003).
Evan was born in Canora, SK, Canada. As a bright, energetic child, he was a natural track and field athlete, earning many provincial ribbons and crests. The family lived in rural Saskatchewan at the time and it was good that his enthusiastic parents could coach and drive to support his love of sport. This continued well into high school, now in Saskatoon, where track and field, basketball, and football were keys to his life. At Nutana Collegiate, he earned academic, athletic and leadership awards.
From 1956-1960, Evan played football with the Saskatoon Hilltops Club of the Canadian Junior Football League. There, he forged strong friendships that have endured a lifetime. The Toppers were Canadian National Junior Champions in 1958 and 1959, and narrowly missed a three-peat, by a 45-yard desperation touchdown in the last seconds of the 1960 playoffs. At the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) from 1958-1962, Evan earned a BA and a Diploma in Education, despite his devotion to Hilltops football, money bridge, and pool, rather than academics.
Evan meeting Ferne was serendipitous: football player blows out knee; has knee surgery; dates a series of Saskatoon City Hospital nurses; finally commits to Ferne. They married on Bastille Day, July 14, 1962. This date provided a wonderful reason to celebrate three anniversaries in Paris. During their years together, they forged an amazing union of two spirited and strong-willed individuals.
Following Evan’s 3-year stint as a high school science teacher and football coach, in Regina SK, they returned to Saskatoon to attend the U of S. There Ferne earned a BSN; and Evan, a BA Honors, preliminary to beginning a doctoral program in Chemistry, in 1967. His supervising professor, Dr. R.A. Abramovitch, moved his research group to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, in January, 1969. This was a life-changing move for Ferne and Evan in many ways: geographically, culturally, and academically. Evan earned his PhD, in 1971, while Ferne supported the family as a Nursing instructor. The most important event, however, was the birth of their beloved son, Kevan, in 1970. Postdoctoral research with Professor Donald Cram at UCLA followed. There, Evan worked on the early stages of the host-guest chemistry, for which Professor Cram shared the 1987 Nobel Prize. Evan joined the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin as an assistant professor in 1972. Evan rose through the academic ranks at UT to become a full professor. His early independent research career was marked by numerous publications in the area of physical organic chemistry, followed by a series of important contributions in the synthesis of organophosphorus and organometallic compounds. A demanding and highly-regarded teacher and mentor to his students and postdoctoral associates, he also contributed to departmental administrative duties, including serving as associate chair of the department. In this latter role, he dealt with challenging issues, particularly those associated with the assignment of and remodeling of research spaces and the accommodation of new senior-level faculty members.
During Evan’s UT days, his sports drive persisted. For readers of Ken Herman’s column in the Austin American Statesman, he was part of the infamous “chemistry professors” basketball team that Coach Jody Conradt had her Lady Longhorns play, as they offered “challenging, aggressive competition.” Evan had the bruises to show from each of their three scrimmages.
Evan became a zealous soccer Dad, when Kevan committed to soccer and joined an advanced select team, the Austin Flyers. Wolfgang Suhnholz, a former Bundesliga, German National Team, and NASL player was hired to coach the team in 1983. Wolfgang became one of Evan’s closest friends and a true member of the Kyba family. In 1986, Evan was one of five members who established the Austin Capitals Soccer Club, creating Wolfgang’s vision of a European style, multi-team U-10 to U-19 club. Evan served on its Board of Directors as Vice-President and later team manager of its flagship U-19 team. There was special joy in 1988 when the U-19 team won Southern Regionals, in an exciting penalty kick shootout. The team went on to place third at Nationals. The family logged many road and air miles over these years; and later, when Kevan went to Furman University on soccer and academic scholarships.
Evan was lured by a former student to “the dark side.” In December 1987, he was hired by Alcon Laboratories, an ophthalmic pharmaceutical company in Fort Worth, a risky move from a tenured position. Alcon was changing its pharmaceutical strategy from a license and develop approach to a focus on research and development of new chemical entities. Evan was recruited to develop the Department of Medicinal Chemistry. He is credited with building and managing an organization that produced three block buster drugs that scored sales in the one to five-billion dollar range. These products helped Alcon become one of the world’s largest ophthalmic pharmaceutical companies and played a key role in Nestle’s sale of Alcon to Novartis.
During this time Evan maintained his connections with the UT College of Natural Sciences by serving on the Dean's Advisory Council. Of particular interest was development of the Freshman Research Initiative.
Evan retired from Alcon as Vice President for Research in 2005. Evan and Ferne returned to Austin where he maintained his association and work with the College of Natural Sciences. Always intellectually curious and motivated by the challenges of chemistry, Evan consulted with a startup company seeking to develop a diagnostic process for Alzheimer’s disease until the last week of his life.
Throughout their 58 years together, Evan and Ferne grew through their love of family, friends, celebrating good times, and honoring bad. They reveled in hosting friends at their Austin and Arlington homes - several who stayed for months at a time. The motto best describing their approach to living is “Good food, good wine, good friends.” World travel was a core part of their last four decades. They travelled to numerous countries, visiting all seven continents; pursuing their love of adventure, jazz, theatre, fine wine, and gourmet food.
They found great pleasure in sharing trips to England, Switzerland, and Spain with Kevan and Suzanne. Introducing Ashdon to travel to Cabo San Lucas, when he was one year old; followed by Costa Rica, and many trips to Maui, made the world even more exciting, seeing it through the eyes of an inquisitive child.
Evan never lost his appetite for learning and, until his very last days, spent hours immersed in the latest issues - reading the journal Science, as well as books on such topics as technology development, climate change, evolution, and neuroscience. He is one of the few we know who actually plowed through Umberto Eco’s Pendulum.
Evan and Ferne had an enduring commitment to lifelong learning. This foundation came from the family roots of both, with mothers and several relatives who were teachers. Several months prior to his passing, Evan and Ferne endowed the Ferne and Evan Kyba Professorship in Chemistry. This gift provided Evan with a comforting sense of closure and fulfillment by assuring continued support to The University of Texas and the Department of Chemistry.
The Kyba family expresses their deepest gratitude to the 15 medical specialists and their staffs, who addressed Evan’s multiple health challenges. Though all provided excellent professional care, in particular, we recognize Dr. Stephen Dewan, Dr. Mary Beth Cishek, and Dr. Timothy Hines, who provided crucial care at Evan’s most critical junctures. The nursing staff at Seton Main in the ER, Outpatient Surgery, ICU, and 3rd West provided true expressions of the best of the nursing profession. The family also thanks the caregivers at Querencia, where Evan spent a month rehabbing after a cardiac arrest in 2018. On discharge, the staff at Halcyon Home Health provided more than a year of competent, compassionate, and loving care, especially RN Armida and PTs Stacey and Kristi. Halcyon Hospice offered support in Evan’s final days.
A celebration of Evan’s life will be held in Austin from 5:30 to 8:30 pm on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at the County Line on the Hill, 6500 Bee Cave Road (FM 2244).
In lieu of flowers, please consider honoring Evan’s philanthropic spirit, and the Kyba’s strong belief in “paying it forward.” Memorial donations may be directed to The University of Texas at Austin, designating the Ferne and Evan Kyba Professorship in Chemistry, or the Kyba Family Undergraduate Scholarship in Nursing; or to a charity of your choice. Please use the following address for online donations. Donors will need to select “Natural Sciences” or “Nursing” and simply add the name of the endowment in the text box at the bottom of the page: https://utdirect.utexas.edu/apps/utgiving/online/nlogon/?source=GIV.
For checks, please make the check payable to “UT Austin” and write the name of the endowment to which you wish to contribute in the memo line. These will be processed for both Natural Sciences and Nursing by: Sergio Delgado, Chief Development Officer; UT Austin School of Nursing 1710 Red River Street, Austin, Texas 78712
- The University of Texas @ Austin
- Celebration of Life Sunday, November 10, 2019
Evan Peter Kyba
November 8, 2019
Evan was a great, wonderful leader and scientist. He was always enthusiastic about our adventures in medicinal chemistry, cheering us in our successes and understanding of our travails, fatherly and forthright in equal measure. I enjoyed a long, productive and happy career in chemistry at Alcon thanks to Evan’s vision and mentorship. Sincerest condolences from Kim and myself to Ferne and all of Evan’s family.
October 6, 2019
Dear Ferne and Family -
I am very saddened by Evan's death. My time at UT was greatly enriched by scientific interactions with Evan, and by socializing with both of you. Please accept my heartfelt condolences. I know that you will be sustained during this trying time by memories of Evan's intelligence, humor, and strength.
In deepest sympathy,