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

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 2:07 p.m. MDT

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith.   (Patrice Tew) 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.

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew) Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew)

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.

Bill Pope looks on as his wife, Margaret, shakes hands with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at AIT (Abadan Institute of Technology) in Abadan, Iran, 1961. (Courtesy of Patrice Tew) Bill Pope looks on as his wife, Margaret, shakes hands with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at AIT (Abadan Institute of Technology) in Abadan, Iran, 1961. (Courtesy of Patrice Tew)

"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."

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew) Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew)

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."

Bill Pope standing by the High Pressure Press at US Synthetic. (Courtesy of Patrice Tew) Bill Pope standing by the High Pressure Press at US Synthetic. (Courtesy of Patrice Tew)

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.

While in Iran, they were some of the only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area, so Pope got permission to hold meetings in their home with another LDS friend, Layton said. For fun, they would go on bike rides and play volleyball with the university students.

"It was a wonderful way to grow up," Layton said.

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew) Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew)

When they returned to Provo, Pope resumed teaching at BYU and began a lifetime of service in the LDS church, including as bishop of a student ward, counselor in a stake presidency, stake president and regional representative to the Twelve.

He was also a missionary on Temple Square with his wife, a high priest group leader and a sealer in the Provo Temple.

"Everything he did was to focus us on the gospel and salvation," Layton said, recalling one of his frequent phrases: "Never cry over anything that doesn't affect your salvation."

Pope and his wife, Margaret, who taught religion classes at BYU for 27 years, were also deeply devoted to education and set up various scholarships and endowments, including an endowed professorship at BYU.

Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew) Bill and Margaret Pope shared love of family and faith. (Patrice Tew)

Calvin Bartholomew, professor emeritus in BYU's chemical engineering department, was one of the recipients of the five-year professorship, which provided desperately needed funds for Bartholomew's research.

"Bill has always been such a congenial person, a good friend, and I'll miss him a great deal," Bartholomew said.

Similar comments have been pouring in to Pope's family from across the country, a testament to Pope's kindness and desire to make people feel important.

"Even at his funeral, I was awed at the kind of life he lived," Paxman said. "I knew what a great man he was character-wise, and I had seen him get awards, lots of awards, but I hadn't really stopped to contemplate what he had achieved in his life."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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