January 2010

Retrospective: Richard I. Gumport (1937–2009)


Dick and I had a wonderful scientific collaboration that lasted 25 years. I was trained as a geneticist, but Dick’s knowledge and background in nucleic acid-binding proteins gave me an appreciation for the power of biochemical approaches to problems.

Two of Dick’s most prominent characteristics were his wit and wonderful sense of humor. I remember a particularly long group meeting, where it seemed that no progress had been made in one of our projects. Dick took out the fountain pen he always carried and wrote me a note. I thought he was going to suggest that we end the meeting. When I read the note it said: “This is why the university pays us these fantastic salaries.”

Jeffrey F. Gardner
Professor of microbiology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

***

Dick had a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, and he peppered the lab with absurd pictures and sayings. Over the sink was a drawing of a snail, titled “The Pace of Research.” As a graduate student in his lab, I thought that it was just a funny cartoon. However, I came to understand that it represented what made Dick such an outstanding scientist and effective mentor. He taught us that, to do science right, you must be careful and methodical— in technique, of course, but especially in your reading of the literature and design of the experiment. However, what made Dick so special was that this rigor was coupled with an unusually kind and generous spirit. He considered every scientist, from undergraduate student to seasoned primary investigator, to be a colleague. I feel exceptionally privileged to have had him as my thesis mentor.

Deborah Hinton
Chief, gene expression and regulation section
Laboratory of molecular and cellular biology
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health


Robert L. Switzer (rswitzer@illlinois.edu) is professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He gratefully acknowledges Jeffrey F. Gardner for assistance with this article.

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