Earlier this year, the URI Graduate School of Oceanography community learned of an unexpected and generous financial gift to the school. The late Eva L. Jernigan Hoffman Ph.D. ’76, and Gerald (Jerry) Lee Hoffman had gifted $900,000 to GSO, adding yet another chapter to the impressive legacy the couple had built over many years on the Narragansett Bay Campus.
To say there was a lot of chemistry between Eva and Jerry is an understatement. Their romance blossomed in the chemistry lab of GSO Professor Robert (Bob) Duce while Eva was a graduate student and Jerry was a post-doctoral fellow. When they married on September 4, 1971, in Eva’s hometown of Houston, Texas, her maid of honor was Barbara Ray, a fellow GSO chemist in the Duce Lab, and Jerry’s best man was GSO chemistry student Brendan Doherty M.S.’75. The couple had been married for 49 years when Jerry died on October 2, 2020.
They had both been chemists working with Bob Duce in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hawaii. After earning his Ph.D. there in 1971 Jerry came to GSO as a post-doctoral fellow. Also in Hawaii, Eva Jernigan earned a M.S. in Chemistry with Bob in 1970. But Eva and Jerry didn’t become romantically involved until after they both came to GSO.
Jerry’s expertise was in analyzing atmospheric samples for trace metals. Former GSO Dean Bob Duce remarked, “Jerry was a fantastic guy and one of the most outstanding analytical chemists I have ever known. It is not exaggeration to say Jerry trained a generation of GSO people on how to analyze for trace amounts of metals in atmospheric and marine samples using atomic absorption and neutron activation analysis.”
Jerry worked for Duce but was well known to students of GSO professors Jean-Guy Schilling, Michael Pilson, Dana Kester and Elijah Swift. Jerry went to sea on GSO’s R/V Trident several times, his sea duties including the collection of sea slick samples from a rubber raft, often accompanied by sharks and sea fog. Jerry also was involved with collecting atmospheric deposition samples at various sites. In 1976 he began working at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab on the Narragansett Bay Campus where he continued as an analytical chemist.
After Eva earned her Ph.D., she stayed at GSO and continued working as a marine research scientist, first with Duce and later with Professor Jim Quinn. She published on a wide range of topics such as atmospheric chemistry, metal pollution, petroleum hydrocarbons and waste oil disposal practices. She was on the first cruise of the GSO’s R/V Endeavor that investigated the Argo Merchant oil spill on December 26, 1976, and was on three more cruises to the site, serving twice as chief scientist. She worked with GSO colleagues at the Marine Ecosystem Research Laboratory on the oil experiments in the mesocosms. Professor Candace Oviatt noted, “Eva accomplished many good things in her life. She was in large part responsible for the reduction in motor oil disposal down drains in Rhode Island while she was still a graduate student.”
In addition to her science research, Eva was asked by the GSO Dean’s Office to chair the school’s first alumni group. In a 2020 email to the current alumni group, Eva wrote, “I decided to start the first GSO alumni newsletter with the help of Candace Oviatt Ph.D. ’67 and Doug Cullen M.S. ’83. I had a great time with that. The first article I wrote was the history of the boat burning and it gave me an excuse to call up alumni and ask tricky questions. When we held our phonation about two years later, we didn’t have a place for the money to be kept. The Foundation agreed to hold the money. The goal for our first phonathon was $10,000. Since we had 250 alumni at the time, that was $40 apiece. We held it in the Foundation’s office on main campus and had about 15 alumni calling. We got right to the point early in the calls and admitted that we were calling to put the bite on them. We did reach our goal for the next several years.”
Eva and Jerry continued to support the GSO annually.
In 1985 Eva left GSO to become the coordinator of the new Narragansett Bay Project, a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management program that evolved into today’s EPA Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. Eva was an outspoken advocate for cleaning up and protecting Narragansett Bay. She accomplished much because, as Jim Quinn said, “Eva was a very good scientist and excellent writer. Everyone liked and respected her.”
Eva and Jerry moved to Denver in 1987 and worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey, respectively. As a project manager at EPA, Eva handled clean-up operations at several mining-related Superfund sites in the mountain states. She retired from federal service in 2004 and revisited her interest in trains by writing guidebooks for train passengers. After her death on December 2, 2022, the copyrights for her railroad route guidebooks passed to the Midwest Rail Rangers.
Eva and Jerry never forgot their ties to GSO. After Eva’s death, the executor of their estate contacted GSO to let us know their estate was gifting $900,000 to GSO. Eva and Jerry were hard-working scientists, and their generous gift to GSO honors the school as a special place in their lives. As award-winning journalist, editor, writer and author Jason Buhrmester said, “You don’t have to be a big-pocket philanthropist to improve your community.”