In Remembrance of Harry MacWilliams (1946-2011)

Harry in August 2009, in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, at the Dicty 2009 meeting. [Image: Annette Müller-Taubenberger]

We are mourning the sudden passing of our dear colleague Harry MacWilliams. We will remember Harry as a brilliant scientist, an avid contributor to dictyBase, and a good friend. We will greatly miss him! [dictyBase.org, 1. September 2011]

ListServ Messages, September 2011

Many people sent their thoughts to the ListServ after learning about Harry's sudden passing from Adrian Tsang and colleagues on Sept. 1st, 2011:

Dear colleagues,
It is with profound sadness that we inform the Dictyostelium community of the passing of our dear friend and colleague Harry MacWilliams. Harry had been unwell the past few months. He was showing signs of recovery and decided to return to work. Harry collapsed in his office on Monday August 29, 2011 and did not regain consciousness. At this time, we do not have additional information concerning his sudden departure.
Harry will be greatly missed.

... Read more

An Appreciation

Written by Adrian Tsang, Rob Kay, and Prof. Charles David (LMU, München) with contributions by Adriano Ceccarelli who also sent the piece to us.

Harry was born on July 8th 1946 in Summit, New Jersey. After graduating from Red Bank High School in New Jersey in 1964, Harry entered Harvard University and obtained his Bachelor of Science with high honours in 1968... Read or download the full text (PDF).

dictyBase Contributions

Harry added annotations to many genes, especially those overexpressed in the rblA- mutant.

Other Messages

Messages to the ListServ or to dictyBase after first publishing this commemorative page.

  • Thank you so much for doing this. Harry set such a wonderful standard for generousity and civility in our field and it is such a nice way for keeping his memory alive and sharing his spirit and influence with the younger Dicty people who did not have the chance to enjoy the many memorable interactions that so many of us had with him over the years.
    Daphne Blumberg
  • This is an excellent thing that you have done. I suggest that you go further and set up a CSM history page that will contain (auto)biographies and lore...
    Vidyanand Nanjundiah
  • The thing I remember most clearly about Harry was the depth of his commitment, to Dicty and to science in general. He really obsessed about the best possible tools and the most complete understanding, which is why he generated so many important techniques and tools, and annonated so many genes. This was also reflected in how much he cared about his talks - I remember him going to bed early (and unable to sleep) for fretting about the details of his talk the following day - plenty of postdocs were much less attentive.
    Robert Insall
  • Others have written movingly of Harry’s clever insights, dogged pursuit of fascinating developmental problems (purely theoretical, or in terms of Dicty or Hydra), skills as an experimentalist, and generosity to our entire Dicty community. Naturally I agree whole-heartedly with those observations, but hope I can be allowed a more personal and admittedly idiosyncratic recollection. Almost a decade ago Harry called me to ask if he might stop by my office in Amherst, with—and I had not anticipated this—his father accompanying. It seems that Walter MacWilliams, an accomplished, retired Bell Labs engineer now living an hour from the college, had learned from a distance the wonderful ways in which Harry had inspired and guided young students of biology, and wondered if he himself might in some way aid that same cause. In the end, the three of us devised a scheme by which Walter would monetarily support a couple of Amherst College undergraduates during a ten week research internship, thus augmenting the number of students whose research we at the College could otherwise sustain. Walter has generously continued to meet with and financially support summer undergraduate researchers each year since, and I’ve gotten to know him a bit as a result. From those visits with Walter, it’s easy to see the source, via Nature and Nurture, of Harry’s breadth of intellectual curiosity. But the reason I tell of this arrangement is a comment Harry made to me some years in: it turns out that, quite long ago and before I myself had come to Amherst, Harry had applied for a job in the Biology Department here, which job he wasn’t offered. I was struck then and am still by the wonderful generosity of spirit shown both by Harry and his father: Harry bore no grudge, that’s for sure. We shall all miss him, for very many reasons.
    David Ratner

If you would like to contribute to this commemorative page, send an email to dictyBase.
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