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In Memoriam: Jeremy R. Knowles


Jeremy R. Knowles, an HHMI Trustee, died yesterday at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following a long bout with prostate cancer.

HHMI Trustee Jeremy R. Knowles and Hanna H. Gray, Chair of the HHMI Trustees, look over architect Rafael Vinoly's model of the landscape building at the Janelia Farm Research Campus.Jeremy R. Knowles, elected a Trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on May 4, 1998, died yesterday at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following a long bout with prostate cancer. He was 72.

“Jeremy had a deep concern for and pride in the Institute and its work and the highest of standards for its science and scientists,” said Hanna H. Gray, Chair of the HHMI Trustees. “His warmth and intelligence made him both loved and respected by his colleagues everywhere.”

An accomplished chemist known equally for his elegant diction and refined wit, Knowles was a towering figure at Harvard University whose faculty he joined in 1974 as Professor of Chemistry. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1991 to 2002 and then returned as Dean in 2006. Knowles resigned in April 2007 because of ill health.

“As an HHMI Trustee, Jeremy was completely engaged in both the Institute's scientific and educational activities. Among many other contributions, he provided thoughtful advice concerning the development of HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus,” said Thomas R. Cech, President of the Institute.

Knowles played an equally significant role in shaping the vision for the Institute's programs in science education and chaired a Trustee subcommittee that served as an important sounding board for new initiatives in this area. That keen interest reflected his own commitment to teaching and Knowles took particular delight in returning to the classroom upon stepping down as Dean.

Born in England, Knowles attended Magdalen College School in Oxford and served as an officer in the Royal Air Force before reading chemistry at Balliol College at Oxford University, receiving his B.A. in 1959 and his D. Phil. in 1961. Upon completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, Knowles returned to Oxford as a Fellow and Tutor of Wadham College and was appointed to a University Lectureship in 1966.

Knowles' scientific interests lay at the boundaries of chemistry and biochemistry and he made lasting contributions to the understanding of the chemistry of enzyme action. He returned to the U.S. in 1969 and 1971 as a Visiting Professor in the Departments of Molecular Biophysics and Chemistry, before coming to Harvard in 1973 as Sloan Visiting Professor. Although Knowles returned to Oxford from 1983-84, he remained at Harvard for the rest of his career in academia.

The Harvard Gazette, in recounting Knowles' accomplishments, noted that he advised more than 50 Ph.D. recipients during his career at Oxford and Harvard and authored more than 250 research papers. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977 and as a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988. He received many other honors and awards,

Knowles is survived by his wife, Jane; their three children, Sebastian, Julius, and Timothy, and seven grandchildren.

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Jim Keeley
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