Born in Venezuela and raised in England, Richard Oakley emigrated to Canada in 1966 and was educated at the University of British Columbia, earning his PhD in 1976. Following postdoctoral sojourns at Wisconsin and Stanford he was one of the first winners of a NSERC University Research Fellowship. He began his academic career at the University of Calgary in 1980, moved to the University of Guelph in 1983 and to the University of Waterloo in 1998.
Oakley’s research career is rooted in synthetic Main Group chemistry, but in recent years his interests have evolved to include the crafting of open-shell organic molecules, with a view to generating non-metal based magnetic and conductive materials. Oakley was awarded the ACS Akron Section Award in 1991, the CSC Alcan Lecture Award in 1993, and the CSC Pure or Applied Inorganic Chemistry Award in 2001. He won a Killam Research Fellowship in 2006 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2009.
During the early 1990's Oakley served as member and chair of NSERC GSC 024, and became involved with the organization of CSC related conferences, a commitment that would last over 13 years, during which he acted as chair of the national CSC conference (1993-1995) and later as member and vice-chair of the Pacifichem Chemical Congress Organization (1996-2006)