John McClenon, Dana Professor of Chemistry emeritus, dies

Posted on December 30, 2015 by Staff Writer

Sweet Briar is mourning the loss of John Raymond McClenon, a revered member of the community and professor emeritus with 38 years of service to the College.

McClenon, 78, of Lynchburg, died Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015, after a struggle with cancer. He was the husband of Mary Alice “Molly” Thornton McClenon for 56 years.

Born Saturday, May 1, 1937, John was the son of the late Raymond Benedict McClenon and the late Erica Weber McClenon. In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Anne McClenon and partner, Martin Rader, Marca McClenon, and Maureen Sacon and husband, Neal; and five grandchildren, Ryan, Myles and Molly Ann McClenon-Grant, and Walker and Lilly Etta Sacon.

Born and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, McClenon graduated from Grinnell College and earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was named Sweet Briar’s Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry in 1982.

An obituary in the Dec. 30, 2015, issue of the News & Advance notes his love of teaching and Sweet Briar, as well as the importance of music in his life. A classical and jazz musician, he was involved in numerous local and regional symphonies, in addition to his own 15-piece Johnny McClenon Big Band, according to the obituary.

Sweet Briar students also recall his enthusiasm for the arts, even at the occasional expense of his own discipline.

“Such a Renaissance man!” Vida Henry Fonseca ’84 wrote in an online condolence. “I will never forget his mock remonstrance with me for coming to Chemistry for the Liberal Arts lab when there was a master dance class in Baroque dance going on across the street — one of my dearest Sweet Briar memories!”

The family will receive friends from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, at the First Unitarian Church of Lynchburg. A celebration of his life will follow at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Paul Boothby officiating. A reception will follow.

An additional remembrance will be held at Sweet Briar during Reunion Weekend, June 3-5, 2016. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the First Unitarian Church of Lynchburg, Sweet Briar College, the Lynchburg Symphony or a charity of your choice. Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg, is assisting the family. To send condolences, please visit

The complete obituary may be read here.