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Diamond expert Bill Pope leaves behind legacy of hard work, curiosity

Published: Friday, Dec. 17 2010 11:37 p.m. MST

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith.

Patrice Tew

PROVO — A few months before he died, 88-year-old Bill Pope had a couch put in his office at US Synthetic so he could take a nap if he got tired while he worked. "Mom kept waiting for him to retire, but I think that's what kept him alive for so long — always being interested and busy," said Pope's daughter, Leslie Layton. "He was a man who wanted to live as long as he breathed."

And he did. Despite several years of congestive heart failure that took a massive toll, Pope, an engineer, businessman, former BYU professor and inventor, continued to trundle into his office, oxygen tank in tow, to review patents and pose new ideas for development.

He only stopped working when his heart did on Nov. 30 at his home in Springville.

Yet his influence will live on. Not only did Pope help found three Utah companies, but he's regarded as one of the pioneers in adapting man-made diamonds for industrial use, said Rob Galloway, CEO of US Synthetic in Orem, one of Pope's three companies.

Though Pope was a chemical engineer and a businessman, people in the industry "saw him as a diamond inventor, expert," Galloway said. "He became kind of a guru of the industry."

Thanks to the work of Pope and his colleagues Tracy Hall and Duane Horton and their first company, Megadiamond, oil and natural gas companies could use the power of man-made diamonds to chew through thousands of feet of rock without needing to replace the drill bits.

But revolutionizing the drilling industry wasn't enough for Pope, Galloway said. At the age of 75 he founded another company, Diamicron, to harness the power of diamond technology for things like long-lasting, diamond-coated hip joints.

"His drive was one of his most remarkable characteristics," said daughter Kathryn Paxman. "He had physical therapy the day before he died. He wouldn't give up on any part of his life. He wanted to live life to the fullest, to the very, very end. He's the most remarkable man I've ever known."

As young children, the Popes knew their dad was special, but as they reflect back now, they can see an even greater depth of character.

"Dad had an insatiable curiosity," said Louis Pope, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a mechanical engineer/businessman and founder of US Synthetic. "He was the most knowledgeable fellow I've ever met about all topics. If it was history, science, art, Dad had read about it and could carry on an intelligent conversation."

Daughter Patrice Tew remembers her dad could answer any question she posed, a skill that may have been developed by his reading of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica as a young boy.

"A lot of times learning creates a superiority in people," Tew said. "It just didn't in him. It deepened his soul."

Louis and his three sisters remember how their father doted on their mother, Margaret, whom Pope had fallen in love with in the University of Utah library as a young chemical engineering student. They also saw similar kindness as he interacted with everyone else.

"Anyone who knew him felt like they were his best friend," Louis Pope said. "Dad was genuinely interested in that individual, in carrying on a deep conversation about whatever they were interested in. Anyone who met him, loved him."

In fact, while growing up, Layton was sure she was the favorite, most-loved daughter, but "about 10 years ago, I found out that all my siblings felt that way," she said with a laugh.

Growing up, the Popes were a normal family, hiking Mount Timpanogos, going fishing and taking road trips to Moab and Yellowstone. Yet they also spent three years in Iran while Pope organized a graduate program in chemical engineering at the Abadan Institute of Technology.

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