Throughout his career he was a pioneer of the field of Bioinorganic Chemistry, especially concerned with the role of metal ions as biological messengers, in electrolyte control and in enzyme catalysis, and contributed substantially to our understanding of the evolution of life.
He studied at Merton College, Oxford for both his BA and DPhil (1944-1950). He then spent a postdoctoral year with Prof A Tiselius in the Biochemistry Laboratory at Uppsala, Sweden, where he met Jelly Büchli, whom he married in 1952. He returned to Merton as a Junior Research Rellow (1951-1955) and subsequently joined Wadham College as a Tutor in Chemistry (1955-1972), a post he held in conjunction with that of University Lecturer and then Reader in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory (1955 - 1974). He took sabbatical leave at Harvard Medical School in 1966 and soon after that became Tutor in Biochemistry (1972-1974). In l974 he became the Napier Royal Society Research Professor, whilst retaining his Fellowship of Wadham, where he was then elected to a Senior Research Fellow for four years after 1991. He retired in 1995 to an Emeritus Fellowship at Wadham and Emeritus Professorship in the University.
During the course of his undergradute part II work the Irving-Williams series of the stabilities of complex ions, which is of paramount importance in both non-living and living systems, was discovered, and immediately adopted by textbooks in Inorganic Chemistry. Williams was one of the founding members of the Oxford Enzyme group in 1972, where he and his colleagues devised many new methods for the study of biological systems in vitro and in vivo, especially using NMR spectroscopy.
He published over 700 articles, reviews and books during his extraordinary and extended career, being professionally active right until his final short illness. Several of his books were directed to a general audience, and concerned with his major interest in the interplay between Inorganic Chemistry and the living world. His professional honours included election to the Royal Society (1972) and four foreign memberships of national academies of Sweden, Portugal, Czechoslovakia and Belgium. He was awarded medals by the Royal Society of Chemistry (3), the Biochemical Society (3), and the Royal Society (2) (including the Royal Medal), and the International Biochemical Society. He held honorary degrees from the Universities of East Anglia, Keele, Leicester, Liège, and Lisbon. No fewer than six of his former co-workers have been elected to the Royal Society. He gave numerous titled and plenary lectures all over the world. He has been recognised at Wadham through the creation of the RJP Williams Junior Research Fellowship in Chemistry, the R J P Williams Lectureship, and the Knowles-Williams Tutorial Fellowship. Bob Williams was passionate about his science and a committed member of his local community at the same time. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE in recognition of this work.
Professor Williams died on 21 March 2015. A private family funeral will take place on 7 April. Details of a memorial service at Wadham will be published as soon as possible.
RJP Williams Junior Research Fellowship in Chemistry
Wadham College proposes to elect a fixed-term non-stipendiary Junior Research Fellowship in Chemistry (broadly defined) from 1 October 2015. The costs of the Fellowship are borne by a Trust Fund set up in honour of Professor RJP Williams FRS. (The deadline for application for this post has now passed).