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Former NAU professor, Arizona lawmaker John Wettaw dies at 79

PHOENIX – Longtime former Northern Arizona University professor and state legislator John Wettaw died Sunday. He was 79.

Wettaw was born April 17, 1939, in Saint Louis, Missouri. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Southern Illinois University and doctorate from Michigan State.

He started at NAU in 1967, when he was still in his 20s, and found a home. He was a chemistry professor at the Flagstaff school for 47 years before retiring in 2014.

School President Rita Cheng called Wettaw “a university icon.”

“He made an impact in his field and in the classroom, and he changed the lives of students who crossed his path,” she said in a Twitter post.

During more than half of his time at NAU, he also served in the state Legislature.

He was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1972 for a tenure that lasted 20 years. He moved into the Senate in 1993 and served until 2001.

The 28-year total made him the longest-serving Republican state legislator in Arizona history.

According to a profile on NAU’s website, Wettaw taught more than 15,000 students during his career.

In the profile, he said teaching and being a politician were “identical.”

“You have a product, you market it, and you sell it,” he said.

“If I go into a classroom, I have to sell students on myself and on chemistry. If I go down to Phoenix, I have to sell other legislators on myself and on what my view is on a particular piece of legislation.”

The university’s biology and biochemistry building bears Wettaw’s name.

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