The Martin Wolff Memorial Prize in Civil Engineering

Without the benefit of scholarships and awards, retired chemical entrepreneur and art collector, Dr. Alfred Bader, would have been unable to continue his university studies – first at Queen’s and then at Harvard. In gratitude for that support, he decided to “give back” to other students a bequest which was left to him in 1948 by a dear friend and mentor, Martin Wolff.

“With the memory of this truly good man clear in my mind, I asked Queen’s University to use the money to establish the Martin Wolff Prize in Civil Engineering,” Dr. Bader writes in his 1995 autobiography, Adventures of a Chemist Collector. As a graduate student and teaching fellow at Harvard, earning $100 a month, he knew the difficulties faced by university students trying to finance their education. Over the coming years, he would direct many more such donations to assist students at Queen’s and other universities in completing their studies.

Dr. Bader and Martin Wolff first met in 1941 during a reception at a Jewish community center in Montreal. At the time the teenaged Alfred was interned at a Quebec refugee camp, to which he had been sent after fleeing from the European Holocaust. Mr. Wolff succeeded in sponsoring Alfred and gaining his release from the camp, several weeks after their meeting.

The father of five girls, with limited financial means, Mr. Wolff welcomed the young man into his family and encouraged his efforts to attend university. After Alfred was accepted at Queen’s, the Wolff residence in Montreal became his home base, and Martin Wolff the first father figure in his life. “He was a conservative in the best sense of the word, an introvert, hard-working, totally honest, basically a shy man,” writes Dr. Bader. “He was warm and very kind, and I believe that in some way I took the place of the son he never had.”

A devout Sephardi Jew, Martin Wolff served as treasurer of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Montreal. On Friday evenings the whole family participated in a Hebrew service in their home, and on Saturday mornings they walked together to the synagogue. Having studied Hebrew extensively during his time in the internment camp, Dr. Bader was able to contribute to the family’s religious life. His knowledge of Jewish history, as well as his expertise in stamp collecting, fostered many enjoyable discussions with Mr. Wolff.

While completing graduate studies in organic chemistry at Harvard, Dr. Bader learned of Mr. Wolff’s sudden death from a heart attack, and the bequest of $1,000 – “a princely sum at the time” – in his will. It was with this money that Dr. Bader established the Martin Wolff Prize at Queen’s, in the discipline which his good friend had studied: civil engineering.