LOS ANGELES - Kenneth N. Edwards, retired CEO of the Dunn-Edwards Corp. and one of the country’s leading polymer chemists, passed away on February 20, 2013. He was 80.

Edwards not only played an instrumental role in the development, growth and success of Dunn-Edwards Paints over the past five decades, he was a champion of education and betterment of the coatings industry.

More than 25 years ago, he and some colleagues addressed a problem long plaguing the industry – losing promising young chemists from the East Coast who choose to go back to their roots after college.  He recognized a true need for West Coast educational opportunities and played an instrumental role in establishing premier bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in coatings technology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He was recognized for his efforts with the inauguration of the Kenneth N. Edwards Western Coatings Technology Center, which was established in 2010.

Edwards graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and he earned his master’s in chemical and metallurgical engineering from the University of Michigan. He worked as a principal chemist in the Coatings division of Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, OH, the world’s largest non-profit research institute, for several years before moving back to California to join Dunn-Edwards as the new Product R&D Director. At that time, his father, Arthur C., who had been a partner with founder Frank Dunn since 1938, was now the sole owner. As a chemist, Ken Edwards brought a depth of knowledge and understanding about the development and improvement of products and was a perfect complement to his sales-savvy father.  

Dunn-Edwards benefitted from many of Edwards’ accomplishments, from his early developments in architectural and industrial paint formulations to his vision for developing slurry pigment manufacturing technologies. As CEO from 2001 through 2010, his dedication and vision for the company helped guide and position Dunn-Edwards for significant growth. Under his guidance and leadership, the Dunn-Edwards ESOP was created, and in 2011 construction was completed on the world’s first LEED® Gold-certified paint manufacturing and distribution facility in Phoenix. Edwards also served on the board of directors, along with his sons, Neil, Peter and John.

Edwards taught as a Senior Lecturer - Organic Coatings and Pigments, in the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Southern California, from 1976 to 1980. He was proud of his long association with the professional chemical fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, where he gave generously of his time, serving in a variety of leadership positions.

From 1971 to 2000, Edwards pursued his passion for coatings and plastics technology as an independent consultant and researcher, publishing a wide variety of industry books and papers. He was awarded numerous technology and process patents and received a range of related citations and awards, including the ACS Industrial Innovation Award, the Don Quixote Award for Technology, and the ACS/PMSE Distinguished Service Award, among others.

Throughout his professional career, Edwards was particularly active in his many roles with the American Chemical Society (ACS), holding numerous key positions in a period spanning five decades.

In lieu of flowers, the Edwards family suggests that donations be made to support the Kenneth N. Edwards Western Coatings Technology Center (WCTC) at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The WCTC will be housed in the new Center for Science and Mathematics, which is expected to be completed in May 2013 as a LEED® Gold-certified building. The WCTC will be home to the only polymers and coatings program at an American university west of the Mississippi River.

Checks should be made out to “Cal Poly Foundation” with a memo line indicating “Ken Edwards Memorial Fund.”  Send to:

Raymond H. Fernando, PhD
Arthur C. Edwards Endowed Chair
Director, Polymers and Coatings Program
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
California Polytechnic State University
1 Grand Avenue
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407