University of Texas
Frederik Willem “Frits” de Wette
June 29, 1924–June 11, 2018

 

 

Frederik Willem “Frits” de Wette


Frederik Willem de Wette was born in Bussum, Netherlands on June 29, 1924. Bussum is southeast of Amsterdam and directly north of Utrecht. His father was a high school biology teacher. The occupation of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II interrupted his education. He spent time in a concentration camp in the Netherlands. He graduated with a BS in 1947 from the State University of Utrecht. In 1950, he earned an MS from Utrecht. Following the completion of his master’s, Frits held a variety of research positions: Research Associate State University Utrecht, 1950–1952; Visiting Lecturer at Brown University in 1952–1953; Research Associate, University of Maryland 1953–1955: He was an assistant professor at Utrecht from 1955–1960, earning his PhD in 1959 in theoretical physics. His dissertation was entitled Electrostatic Fields in Ionic Crystals. It was supervised by Professor Bernard Roelof Andries Nijboer. From 1960–1962 he was a research assistant professor at the University of Illinois. Other positions included Research Physicist, Netherlands Reactor Ctr, 1962–1963; Resident Research Associate, Solid State Sciences Division Argonne National Laboratory, 1963-1965.

In 1952, Frits married Theodora de Wette de Gaay Fortman (Doorjte)

Frits joined the University of Texas Physics Department in 1965 as a Professor. He served as chair of the department from 1969–1974. While department chair, Frits was director of the Physics Research Center and was a trustee of the Argonne University Association. The new physics building, RL Moore Hall, was dedicated during his chairmanship. He is pictured at right with Astronomy Chair Harlan Smith, UT Chancellor E. D. Walker and NSF representative Princeton Professor R. H. Dicki. He was appointed Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences in 1976, serving in that position until 1980. From 1974–1975 he held the Kramers chair at the U. of Utrecht. He was a visiting scientist at the Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, West Germany for 1983–1984. In 1994, Frits was appointed Trull Centennial Professor of Physics, a title he held until his retirement in 2008.

Frits’ research interest were surface physics, dynamical, thermodynamical and scattering properties of crystals and crystal surfaces, lattice dynamics of High Tc superconductors.

 

 

 

In 1991, Frits and Winfried Kress edited a book on Surface Phonons as part of the Springer Series in Surface Sciences.

Frits served as chair of “Surface Science,” 19th Solvay Conference in 1987. He was awarded a Humboldt Fellowship in 1983. He is a fellow in the American Physical Society. He also has his pilot license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obituary:

Frederik Willem de Wette

Frits will be remembered best as a loving and generous father and grandfather.

"Frits" de Wette passed away surrounded by family on June 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas. He was 93 years old.

Frits was born June 29, 1924, in Bussum, the Netherlands, to Willem H. de Wette and Kornelia Boogerd de Wette, who were both H.S. educators. Frits and his older sister Hetty, were raised in Huizen, an idyllic country fishing village, 30 miles east of Amsterdam.

Frits studied physics at the Rijks University in Utrecht just as WW II began. His studies were abruptly ended in the second year by a mass arrest of college students by the German army. Frits was interned in a concentration camp in Vucht and was released after six weeks. He spent the remainder of the war in hiding near his home in Huizen, as well as with relatives in Leiden, and Schouwen. There, Frits occupied his free time with enjoyable diversions such as playing the cello and bird-watching.

After WWII ended, Frits resumed his studies in Utrecht and graduated with a bachelor degree in Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy in 1947, a masters in 1950, and a PhD in Theoretical Physics in 1959.

Frits met Theodora "Doortje" de Gaay Fortman on the North Sea island of Schouwen-Duiveland, where both their families vacationed during the summer months. They married in 1952, after which they made the first of several voyages between the U.S. and Holland. Throughout his career, Frits supported Doortje's desire to maintain strong relationships with Dutch friends and relatives by spending every other summer in Holland.

Between 1955 and 1965, the de Wette family made five transatlantic moves, for jobs at Brown University, University of Maryland, back to Utrecht, University of Illinois, The Netherlands Nuclear Reactor Center, and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. During this time, Frits and Doortje also added three children to the family: Julia, (1955) born in Maryland, Hetty (1957) and Nico (1959) born in Frits' childhood home in Huizen.

Frits' career at University of Texas in Austin began in 1965 when he joined the Physics Department as a full professor, later serving as chairman from 1969–1974, and Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences from 1976–1980. He returned to the University of Utrecht for a sabbatical year in 1974, where the family lived in his childhood home in Huizen.

In 1983, Frits received the Alexander von Humboldt Award, which allowed him to spend a year at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, doing collaborative research. As a result, academic ties between the Institute and the University of Texas flourished. In 1984, they returned to Austin and UT, and spent many summers traveling through Europe, often with family or friends. And they spent much of their time with their grandchildren.

Frits largely retired from academia in 1996, when his wife Doortje suffered a life-threatening illness, and thereafter, faithfully dedicated himself to her and her care until her death in 2015.

In 2012, Frits and Doortje moved into the retirement community of Longhorn Village where they enjoyed meeting new friends, daily walks on the grounds, listening to classical concerts, playing pool, and socializing with other residents at dinner.

In younger years, Frits spent many happy times sailing on Lake Travis, soaring, and flying single-engine planes. Some of his proudest accomplishments were piloting several post docs to scientific meetings in the late 60s: twice to California, and once to Philadelphia.

Frits will be remembered best as a loving and generous father and grandfather. He regularly entertained family and friends with his wit and humor, and he loved telling a good joke. Colleagues who worked with Frits recalled his fairness, honesty, and decency. All who knew Frits will miss his warm and amiable personality.

Frits is survived by his children, Julia de Wette, M.D., and husband, Michael Murphy, (Dripping Springs, TX) and their children, Nicholas Murphy and Michaela (Kenny) McCown; Hetty de Wette-Kuhn and husband Bruce Kuhn (Burgh Haamstede, Netherlands) and their children Frits and Juliette Kuhn; Nico de Wette, M.D., and wife Jeanne (Portland, OR) and daughter Jessica Smith; and close family friends, Sandra and Bob Borinstein, and their daughter Hetty.

The de Wette family wishes to thank Visiting Angels Laura Ritchey, Wiesje Luminkewas, and Stacey Valdez for the gentle and loving care they each provided to Frits during the past two years at Longhorn Village.

A Celebration of Life is scheduled for August 4th, 2018 at 4 PM at Longhorn Village, 12501 Longhorn Parkway, Austin, TX 78732. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Hospice Austin or the Texas Nature Conservancy.

 

Obituary

Theodora de Wette de Gaay Fortman (Doorjte) passed away on Friday, March 13, 2015, after a short illness. She was surrounded by her family and passed peacefully. Doortje was born in 1926.

During her childhood years, she enjoyed school, attending classical music concerts with her mother, playing the piano and entertaining the neighborhood children. Doortje loved working with young children, and so it was natural for her to obtain her Montessori teaching credentials, after which she taught kindergarten with great enthusiasm.

Doorrjte met her future husband, Frits de Wette, on the island of Schouwen-Duivceland where both of their families vacationed during the summer months. Shortly after Doortje and Frits were married in 1952, in August they boarded the Zuiderkruis, a Dutch ship, for the first of several trips to the United States, where their first child, Julia, was born. After returning to the Netherlands, they settled in Huizen in Frits' boyhood home, where Hetty and Nico were born. Several more moves between the Netherlands and the US ensued until Frits secured a faculty position in the physics department at the University of Texas at Austin. Austin became their permanent home in 1965.

In Austin, Doortje maintained friendships with a close-knit group of Dutch ladies who gathered at each other's homes and celebrated Dutch traditions and holidays together, including Sinterklaas (St. Nicolaas). She kept up an active schedule of walking, playing the guitar, refurbishing and painting old furniture and crafting. She had a gift for hospitality and often invited guests for a swim and a meal to their modest cabin on Lake Travis. She often encouraged her guests to participate in hilarious games in order to create an atmosphere of good conversation, humor and fun. She also welcomed into the family a surrogate daughter, Sandra Borinstein, and later welcomed Sandra's husband Bob, and their daughter Hetty.

Schouwen-Duiveland continued to play an important role in the family's life because they returned every two years to enjoy the summer with Doortje and Frits' extended families. Not only did the family stay in close contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but the seaside surroundings and natural beauty of the island instilled in them a love of nature and the outdoors. Doortje organized long hikes in the dunes and polders, meal cooking and overnight events on the beach, bike trips throughout the Netherlands and amazing birthday parties with treasure hunts in the forests of Schouwen. Doortje and Frits' grandchildren have enjoyed the same landscape that captivated their grandparents when they were children, and the island has become a gathering place for the many Dutch relatives.

In 1996, Doortje survived a viral encephalitis infection. She improved slowly in the following year and responded very positively when she and Frits traveled back to Schouwen the next summer. She resumed her daily walks and spent hours each day playing her piano.

ln 2012, Frits and Doortje moved to Longhorn Village, a retirement community in Austin, where they lived in an apartment, and enjoyed the friendliness of the residents and staff. It was a move that gave them new acquaintances and delicious daily meals as well as peaceful Hill Country views from their balcony. Longhorn Village has been a safe and restful place for Doortje to have spent her last 2-1/2 years of life, and Frits is thankful that he has many new friends who will help him adjust to life without his wife of almost 63 years.

Doortje is survived by her husband F. W. de Wette. her sister, Loulien de Gaay Fortman, her sister-in-law, Hetty de Groot, her daughter Julia de Wette and husband, Mike Murphy, and their children Nicholas and Michaela, her daughter Hetty de Wette-Kuhn, and their children, Frits and Juliette, and her son, Nico de Wette and wife, Jeanne de Wette and their daughter Jessica Smith. She is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews in the Netherlands.

deWette Photo Album

Theodora de Wette de Gaay Fortman (Doorjte)
Frits de Wette, University of Texas at Austin
Frits de Wette, University of Texas at Austin
Frits de Wette, University of Texas at Austin
Doortje and Frits de Wette, Big Bend National Park