Richard Hanson (1935—2014)

Richard Hanson

Richard Hanson

Richard Hanson
Click here to see a photo collection.
Read a feature article on Richard Hanson from the September 2010 issue of ASBMB Today here.

Read a feature article in the August 2012 issue of ASBMB Today about Hanson’s battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and researchers’ efforts to develop targeted therapies here.

If we were to measure an individual by his dates on the earth, his number of publications, his prizes both local and national, we would find that Richard Hanson was a model of success — and yet we would totally miss the value of the man.
Richard was an accomplished scientist who started his career at Temple University and then in 1978 moved to become chairman of Case Western Reserve University’s biochemistry department — the gluconeogenesis house of kings established by Merton Utter, the previous chairman. Both Mert and Harland Wood were giants in the exploration of the pathways of metabolism, Mert in mammals and Harland in bacteria. Richard spent the rest of his life studying the enzyme phosphoenolpyruvate carboxy kinase, or PEPCK, the rate-limiting enzyme in gluconeogensis, and establishing the cAMP-dependent regulatory mechanism that controlled PEPCK mRNA synthesis. Who would have thought you could become so famous studying just one enzyme, even when it gave rise to Mighty Mouse (the PEPCK-Cmus mouse that could run forever)?
But far greater were his contributions to the university; the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; his beloved Journal of Biological Chemistry; and his colleagues, students and friends.
Richard was the best representation of a modern Renaissance man, a scholar who was knowledgeable about science, art, music, literature, governing and life in general. And perhaps in spite of that knowledge base, Richard was the eternal optimist: The glass was always at least two-thirds full. Of the countless visitors who approached him for enlightenment, none was turned away, and all left with the feeling that they had a better understanding and could go forward with whatever decision or choices they had to make. He left a wake of people affected positively by their interactions with him.
Although Richard had few down moments, the only true one he had was when he was informed that he no longer would be teaching biochemistry to medical students. The new curriculum was going to feature self-directed learning or problem-based learning and not lectures. After polishing the delivery of metabolism to thousands of medical students for more than 30 years and generating the most highly rated section of the preclinical curriculum, he was no longer to be a participant.
Although Richard continued teaching undergraduates, the medical students were his true love. There was always the 70-kilogram man or 50-kilogram woman upon whom all the reference numbers for metabolism were based, and Richard would select such a student from each first-year class. What was the longest a medical student had fasted? Is the Atkins diet a good idea? Why is the woman on the pineapple diet not feeling well?
When students would return years later, while they remembered the preclinical years as being challenging, the one teacher they remembered was Richard — out of the hundreds they had seen. The sparkling blues eyes and truths delivered with humor and clarity motivated generations and served as a model of engagement to his teaching cohorts. He thrived on his interactions with students.
And it was not all about Richard. More than anyone at CWRU over the past 36 years, Richard was about, as they say, improving the breed — improving faculty (especially junior faculty), the department, the medical school and the university. He was recognized for that dedication with the Hovorka Prize for university service and scholarly accomplishment and with a distinguished university professorship.
Richard took advantage of his position as department chairman, associate editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and his presidency of the ASBMB to introduce CWRU faculty to the community of peer-reviewed science or the functioning aspects of a scientific society.
The 1980s and 1990s often were referred to as the golden years in the medical school as department chairmen Les Webster, Mike Lamb, Fritz Rottman and Richard presented a unified force for the improvement of the school. Their cooperation led to the establishment of the Reinberger Laboratories, the correlated curriculum in cell and molecular biology (lecture and laboratory), and the Biomedical Sciences Training Program, an umbrella program to recruit Ph. D. students into all of the departments of the medical school.
But what Richard really cherished were his interactions with others.
The biochemistry department’s Winter Solstice party was a highlight. Richard was a prominent character in the faculty skit (when the heat’s on, the ham sizzles). He praised the delicious dishes representing many tastes and heritages the department members brought to the feast.
Richard found great joy from playing the banjo (obviously a Pete Seeger wannabe) and leading the department in song (tunes we all knew, he said, which meant tunes from the ‘60s and ‘70s). Ken Neet and Dave Goldthwait (on accordion) would be lead vocalists in “On Top of Spaghetti” and “Alouette,” respectively. This past December’s was the only Winter Solstice party that Richard did not attend. It was a party that he, though perhaps a not-ready-for-prime-time performer, wouldn’t miss.

Richard Hanson Scholarship Fund

Checks payable to Case Western Reserve University should be sent to:
Development and Alumni Affairs
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
10900 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44106-7035
Please include a memo:
Richard Hanson Endowment Fund

Seidman Cancer Center

Checks payable to University Hospitals should be sent to:
University Hospitals
Institutional Relations and Development
11100 Euclid Ave., MCCO 5062
Cleveland, OH 44106
Please include a memo:
In memory of Dr. Richard Hanson

Many of Richard’s talents were widely recognized. His banjo playing was well known throughout the medical school and, alas, throughout his home. His doodles, known affectionately as “Riccasos,” are featured in a gallery in the biochemistry department and as a set of note cards prepared by the ASBMB. Richard also supported the Cleveland artistic community as seen through countless acquisitions he made, which are displayed in the department.
The phrase often associated with Will Rogers was that “he never met a man he didn’t like.” For Richard, the phrase might be “he never met an individual he couldn’t say something positive about.” And this was not restricted to just his scientific colleagues but included individuals in the public eye as well, especially the arts.
Richard’s opinions were universally sought for problems large and small. He was the campus sage. But most of all, he generated a warm feeling in everyone he met. His conversations were characterized by his blue eyes and dimples, the easy laughter, the quiet concern.
Another quality of Richard’s was that he didn’t have to be right. Any discussion entered was about opinions and facts and how they might be best interpreted, understood or used as a place to move forward from. It was not personal that he didn’t agree with you or you with him; it was just about interpretation. As a result of this honesty, there was never a question of his motives, never a question about the truth of his statements, never a question about his leadership. His transparency provided a secure calm in which his department, his collaborators and his colleagues could operate and flourish. Everyone left better for the interaction, and perhaps this is for what he will be most measurably missed. He was a most wonderful human being who made all of us better.

William Merrick
Vern Schramm
Michael Weiss
William C. Merrick ( is a professor in the biochemistry department at Case Western Reserve University.
Vern L. Schramm (vern.schramm@ is chairman of the biochemistry department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Michael A. Weiss ( is chairman of the biochemistry department at Case Western Reserve University.