Don C. Wiley: A Tribute

- GUESTBOOK, page 1 -

See "Links" page for longer tributes/obituaries

"Don Wiley was a generous, imaginative, and questing scientist, whose work on viruses and on the nature of the immune response to infectious agents was truly illuminating. His research contributions were both important and transforming, and his collaborative search for a better understanding inspired students and colleagues in many scientific disciplines. The loss of this engaged and engaging colleague is a tragedy for Harvard, and for science."

  Jeremy R. Knowles
  Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

"Don was an inspiring figure for colleagues and students alike; brilliantly accomplished, broadly and deeply informed. He had a ready and quick wit and lit up any room he entered. I grieve with you for his loss."

  Mark Ptashne
  Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

"I come from a small university at a small place, Puerto Rico. I went to Boston one day for a conference and decided to visit Harvard for the first time and to look for information and orientation on graduate programs. I read about Dr. Wiley's research at the department of biology and decided to ask him for orientation. Despite his very busy schedule, and the fact that I was a total unknown student from a small university, Don C. Wiley not only welcomed me into his office without hesitance but he also replied "how much time do you have?" when I asked him if he had time to talk. Then he actually welcomed me to apply to Harvard and believed in me sufficiently as to offer me an opportunity to work as a summer research assistant at his lab on the summer of 2000. He was kind enough to welcome me, to offer me his time without reserves and to trust in me! How many professors are there of which anyone can actually say that. To me that speaks marvels of his character. His honesty, his simplicity, his compassion and the simply wonderful human being, professional and educator that he was. And I will always be grateful of him and the opportunity that he gave me. I don't know what happened or why, but I'm sure he will prevail, because he left a trail of good deeds that will perpetuate his soul. Because he not only was a talented scientist but also a beautiful heart. So Thank you Don! And Bless You!"

  Iris Monica Vargas
  Phyiscs and Biology, University of Puerto Rico

"As the professor of the required Structural Biology class for incoming graduate students, Don Wiley was one of the first Harvard professors with whom I interacted on a regular basis. His attitudes about and insights into science left a large impression on me during my graduate career. He was very supportive of us in class, and his witty style encouraged lively discussions that I will never forget. We will miss him."

  Jason Rihel
  MCB, Harvard University

"Don was a first year Assistant Professor when I was a first year graduate student in 1971. Aside from Jack Strominger, the only other rotation I did was in Don's lab. I did not accomplish much, aside from helping him set up the lab. I had the idea that because there were lots of sequences for immunoglobulin variable domains, it should be possible to predict something about their structure, but that was impossible at the time. One evening we were talking, and Don got philosophical. He said, "Tim, do you think you will ever make a difference?" Having few qualifications other than confidence in myself, I said "Yes". He said that was interesting that I thought I would, because few people did, and he was going to write it down. About 25 years later, I was giving a seminar in Don's department, and met him in his office. He said, "Did we make a bet when you were a grad student here? I have a piece of paper in my desk drawer, I know just where it is, and it says 'Tim Springer will make a difference.' Do you still think that's true?"

Don was both inspirational and a great friend. In 1996 when I did my first prediction of a protein fold, I sent off the manuscript to Don for his criticism. His comments were brief, but he said that although he did not think much of fold prediction, and even taught in his course examples where predictions were proved wrong by structures, he was sure I was right. I trusted Don's judgment and his unsparing honesty. With his blessing, I confidently sent in the paper.

Don meant much to me as a teacher and colleague. His honesty, wit, energy, enthusiasm, commitment to work only on the most important and challenging problems, and friendship are qualities I will always remember and sorely miss. I am deeply saddened that he has been taken from us. I extend my profound sympathy to his students, colleagues, and family."

  Timothy A. Springer
  Latham Family Professor of Pathology
  Harvard Medical School and Center for Blood Research

"I wish to offer my tribute to this outstanding scientist and human being. As one who has been part of the development of HLA as it was translated to the clinic, I will never forget the joy I experienced in 1987 when the first MHC crystal structure was published by Bjorkman, Strominger, and Wiley.

An exuberant explorer of the landscapes of life, he taught us how to see."

  Charles B. Carpenter
  Laboratory of Immunogenetics and Transplantation, Brigham and Women's Hospital

"I am sorry to find this news. I have traced his research for many years and admire his ingenunity very much. I have to say we lost a giant in science but we never forget him."

  Xiaoyong Zhi
  Department of Biochemistry, Nanjing University

"First, my sense of shock at the loss of such a great scientist. He is, and will be, sorely missed. Then, two brief comments on his contribution to immunology, and my contacts with him. I believe that through his pioneering work on important molecules of the immune system, he radically changed the way in which we percieve the workings of this system, not to mention that each one of the structures his group determined solved problems that could hardly be answered by any other means. His clarity and economy of expression in his papers should be an example to us all.

On a personal vein, he was extremely helpful and collegial at any time that we asked him for coordinates, or help. Even though our approach of modeling was in contrast to what all crystallographers believe, he was still kind enough to look at our effort to model histocompatibility proteins with understanding. Everytime I would dwell into one of his papers I would find another gem of significance that somehow I had not given it its due attention before; a lasting remark to his wisdom, scientific depth and foresight.

Finally, I believe that when there will be one or more lasting cures for any of the autoimmune diseases and vaccines for infectious diseases that burden mankind, one of the first people that patients will give thanks to, will surely be Don Wiley. I am so sorry that he will not be there to receive thanks due to him..."

  George K. Papadopoulos, Ph.D.
  Technological Education Institute of Epirus, Arta, Greece

"Don was a wonderful colleague and friend. He had an infectious enthusiasm for science, and a brilliant analytical mind. We worked closely together for six years on MHC molecules in autoimmune diseases, and Don deeply cared about clinically relevant research even though his own work was very basic. I remember many long, lively conversations with Don, and he had a remarkable ability to get to the core of a scientific problem. Don made a lasting impression on me with his commitment, brilliance and honesty."

  Kai Wucherpfennig
  Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

"When Don Wiley came to Rome for the first time about 10 years ago, at the invitation of the University, he delivered a lecture that is still vivid in many peoples mind. He easily established contacts and proved open, stimulating and accessible to students and younger faculty; his enthusiasm was spreading around. He was very generous with suggestions and helped us in establishing a protein crystallography unit in the Department. Don's subsequent visits left a mark of intelligence and vision that impressed those that came in contact with him. We were proud that the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, unanimously endorsed his name as a candidate for the Japan Prize on Molecular Recognition, awarded to him and J. Strominger. And on a more personal vein, I feel happy to have helped Don and his family to spend a nice summer holiday in the island of La Maddalena in Sardegna, where a number of people still remember the Wileys with respect and sympathy. The tragic loss of such a precious man will be felt with sorrow for a long time, also in Rome."

  Maurizio Brunori
  Biochemistry, University of Rome

"I worked part-time as a staff assistant in Don Wiley's office for nine years: 17.5 hours per week. It was a great way to supplement my other life as a jazz musician and teacher, and also to learn about the latest computer and digital technology. I'd like to share a story about Don's generosity, his love of music, and his thoughtful, loving kindness as a father. After Don and a group of his lab members came to hear my band at a Cambridge nightclub he asked if I would make a tape for his son William who was then about 3 or 4 years old. He also said, 'You should be doing music fulltime!' He and his wife Katrin had bought a beautiful book called 'An Illustrated Treasury of Songs' with accompanying paintings from the National Gallery of Art. Since they were not sure of the melodies, they wanted a tape to accompany the book so they could sing along with William. I agreed to record all 50 songs with just voice and piano in my home studio. After I gave him the tape he left me a note with a check. The note said, 'It has been my experience that artists tend to undervalue their work by at least 100%' He gave me a check for double the amount we had agreed upon. He also gave me a copy of the songbook. Needless to say, I was thrilled and very grateful. Since I entertained at most of the lab's holiday parties, he would always bring William over to me and say, 'This is the Ruthie the woman whose voice you've listened to over and over on your tape.' I am now working fulltime as a musician and filmmaker. I will miss Don and only wish the best for Katrin and the children during this difficult time.

  Ruthie Ristich

"Don was a great scientist and a fine athlete who always got right to the core of the matter and was a very insightful and fantastic human being. During scientific meetings in Australia and United States, we raced each other to the top of Kosciusko and to the top of the mountains in the Rockies; Don always won. Life was always fun for Don, and he lived it to the fullest. His work on the hemagglutinin of influenza together with John Skehel and Ian Wilson opened new vistas into our understanding of the structure and function of the glycoprotein molecule that is most important in antigenic drift and provides insight into where and how this occurs.

He was instrumental in persuading the Board of Governors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital of the importance of structural Biology and was the greatest scientific advisor this institution has ever had.

Don, you brought inspiration and challenge to everyone you touched."

  Rob Webster
  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

"As Director of St Jude Children's Research Hospital, I had the pleasure of interacting with Don in his role as a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. His support and influence were critical elements in our decision to establish our Department of Structural Biology. He returned annually to the institution to review the department and to participate in its evaluation. We found him to be an inspirational and intellectually rigorous individual who contributed much to our institution."

  Arthur W. Nienhuis, M.D.
  Department & Institution: St Jude Children's Research Hospitial

"I first met Don when I was a graduate student at UCBerkeley. He came to give a talk and his work was clearly exciting. He also had a style of communicating it to his audience of many backgrounds that was captivating and refreshing. I was about to graduate so I told him that. Then I sent him a CV and visited his lab. Soon enough I became his first student (post-doc or doctoral) from mainland China. I was a theoretically oriented person and hadn't done much experiment before joining his lab. Also I was more traditionally oriented in my way of thinking than I was aware of. So it's not surprising (in hindsight) that I had problems communicating with him both on a scientific level and on a personal level. But I was not left alone to survive all by myself, although at that time I had wished so. Every one in the lab was involved in helping me, especially Don. Don was always encouraging, enthusiastic, out-spoken, engaging, and outright honest. He never failed to let me know what he thought. He was an extremely good experimentalist and I learned from him how an experimentalist thinks. A simple example is, when a couple of complex structures of MHC and peptide were solved, I was once discussing possible mechanisms of binding of peptides to MHC. For a moment, I was beginning to hypothesize possible processes of molecular recognition involved. I was trying to exhaust all possible ways. Don interrupted me and said, 'Why don't you look at the structures and tell me what they tell you? Experiment says this and that says this: one, two, three.' On the other hand, Don also read theoretical works and sometimes had great ideas. Unfortunately he did not really try out his ideas often. Don was witty and he lightened up the day in so many ways than I could remember. I had enjoyed the afternoon tea many times because he was there. He was like a hero to me, 'Standing over the cliff, looking out', in his own words. I was deeply saddened by what had happened to him. I, like all his relatives and friends, will miss him very much."

  Fan Jiang
  Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

"I did not have a wide variety of interactions with Don, but each of them was vivid, sustained, and laced with enough originality that I always walked away more thoughtful and often more amused. We served together on two committees and I particularly enjoyed our time together on the Jane Coffin Childs Fellwship Committee. Don felt that whatever was done in science it at least had to have some promise of giving us new insights. This modest criterion of success, when applied to fellowships or grants, generally eliminated most of them. The more commonly applied criterion of feasibility of the project, eliminated far fewer. As it turned out Don would be highly critical of many of the crystallography grants and I served as a foil, talking them up. In the end he just wanted some non-crystallographer to find meaning in the project. I also realized that role reversal was symmetric, as I noticed that Don was particularly generous when it came to cell biology proposals, where I was apt to be unreasonably critical. Whether this was playfulness on Donís part or deep insight into how decisions should be made, I never knew because this technique led to the most useful and interesting discussions and illuminated what could have been a tedious exercise. During this time and on other occasions, Don and I spoke extensively about evolution, a subject that few would connect to Don. Yet evolutionary thinking permeated Don's understanding of why proteins are built the way they are and why biology has the structure it has. I still remember a conversation after a scientific meeting in Eurpoe, where Don turned abruptly from evolution to teaching biology and I realized for the first time how much Don was a real biologist and a real teacher and how protein structure was a means to an end for him. I was left with deep admiration that Don could see so far beyond his own work, when so few people were capable of seeing half as far as he had achieved himself. What I will always remember from our times together, is probably not his scientific insights, many of which I have already assimilated, but his style. To Don everything deep and meaningful could also be cast as ironic, sarcastic, and absurd. That made every interaction a pleasure, but oddly enough it tended to solidify the ideas so that they were not easily forgotten. So we remember it all, the wit, the accomplishments, the unanswerable questions, and the person and we are very glad to have known Don for these years."

  Marc Kirschner
  Department of Cell Biology Harvard Medical School

There are more quotes about Don on a Harvard Medical School memorial page.



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