January 2010

Retrospective: Richard I. Gumport (1937–2009)

As is clear from this description, Dick Gumport believed strongly in research collaboration rather than competition. He was devoted to the highest standards of research integrity and effective education, and he gave abundantly of his time in support of those ideals. He served as associate head of the department of biochemistry at Illinois for 12 years and as acting head for one year, and he was associate dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Urbana campus, from 2002 to 2007. Dick generously devoted his efforts to the work of several American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology committees and served for 10 years on the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board. An avid traveler, Dick enthusiastically supported international cooperation in biochemistry. He was among the American biochemists who traveled to China after the end of the Cultural Revolution as part of the China-United States Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Examination Administration (CUSBEA) program in 1984 and in many subsequent years. He formed scientific collaborations with biochemists in Russia, Finland and Turkey. Dick was honored by the award of a Guggenheim Fellowship in1979 and election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.

No retrospective of Dick Gumport’s life and career would be complete without remembering his wonderful sense of humor. It provided a sense of perspective and made him a delightful colleague. “Academic politics are so vicious,” he’d say, “because the stakes are so small.” His e-mail messages closed with a quote from Mark Twain: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such trifling investments of fact.”

Below are reflections from his friends and colleagues.

Dick embodied the ideals of the true intellectual university professor. He was a citizen of the world with an insatiable curiosity, rock-solid integrity and a clear eye for reality filtered by a sense of humor that would have made Mark Twain envious. He was a mentor to many and showed us all how to live according to strong and honest values. He leaves an incredible void, and we miss him profoundly.

Bradford Schwartz
Dean of the Urbana campus
University of Illinois College of Medicine

***

Knowing Dick for more than 30 years both as a colleague in the restriction enzyme field and as an executive editor of Nucleic Acids Research, I grew to respect and admire him greatly. He combined the professionalism of a journal editor and scientist with the fun-loving exuberance of a committed researcher. I cannot remember a dull moment when Dick and his wife, Bobbie, were around. Laughter and friendship (plus a little alcohol) were the order of the day. He was very much a scientist’s scientist, who set a marvelous example of how to live and love life both in and out of the laboratory. I miss him greatly.

Richard J. Roberts
New England Biolabs

***

Dick and I arrived as rookie assistant professors from West Coast postdocs in the fall of 1971. Since we shared long hair, an abhorrence of neckties and an interest in nucleic acids, it was perhaps inevitable that we became firm friends and collaborators. Dick first suggested that the newly discovered T4 RNA ligase could solve my difficulties in making RNAs of defined sequence and then took the lead in making T4 infected cells, purifying and assaying the enzyme. By the summer of 1973, we had successfully shown that the enzyme could join two RNA fragments, and the resulting paper got us tenure and launched our careers. Dick was a joy to collaborate with— optimistic, careful, funny, hard working and thoughtful. Above all, you could trust Dick. Looking back, Dick not only taught me how to work with enzymes, but he provided an environment that made doing science fun.

Olke C. Uhlenbeck
Professor and chairman
Department of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology
Northwestern University

***

 

 

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