January 17, 2006
Lawrence Grossman, PhD, 1924-2006
Lawrence (Larry) Grossman, PhD, a pioneer in the field of DNA repair and a World War II combat veteran, passed away January 13 at the age of 81. A University Distinguished Service Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Grossman’s crowning achievement was the development of a highly sensitive test for measuring the DNA repair capacity of individual people. The test provides a powerful tool for assessing which individuals in a population are at risk for skin cancer or for other tumors of environmental origin. In one of his studies, Grossman found that reduced DNA repair capacity appears to contribute to basal cell carcinoma, especially in those individuals with a prior history of severe sunburn. Grossman also made enormous contributions to uncovering the molecular mechanisms by which cells repair ultraviolet radiation damage to their chromosomes.
Grossman, a New York native, quit high school to help support his family in 1941, just one month before the United States entered World War II. Soon after, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet. At the age of 18, he was shot down in his fighter plane off the coast of Okinawa and spent two days floating alone on a raft until rescued by a U.S. destroyer. During his time as a pilot, he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses. After the war, he resumed his education, first finishing high school, then studying engineering at City College of New York, and later transferring to Hofstra University to complete his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry. Grossman earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Southern California in 1954. He then joined the laboratory of Nathan Kaplan in the McCollum-Pratt Institute on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.
In 1957, after a brief stint at the National Institutes of Health, Grossman joined the new Department of Biochemistry at Brandeis University, which was being organized by Kaplan. At Brandeis, his pioneering studies on the biochemistry of DNA repair assured his rise to the rank of professor. In 1975, he returned to Johns Hopkins to become the E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry in what was then the School of Hygiene and Public Health. Grossman also held joint appointments in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the School of Medicine’s Oncology Department.
“Larry’s vision, drive and personal warmth produced dramatic revitalization of the research and training programs of this department and his achievements as chair continue to benefit the group,” said Roger McMacken, PhD, chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology established The Lawrence Grossman Lectureship in spring 2004 to honor Grossman’s research achievements and 14 years as department chair.
“Larry was a warm, enthusiastic and supportive mentor for students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty, and was an outstanding scientist. His legacy lives on in a strong and vital department which he nurtured and led for a decade and a half,” said Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Grossman was on the editorial boards of several journals and book series—Cancer Research, the Journal of Biological Chemistry Methods in Enzymology and Critical Reviews of Biochemistry. He also was a committee member or chair of advisory committees for the American Cancer Society and National Institutes of Health in Biochemistry and represented the International Union of Biochemistry to the National Academy of Sciences. He co-edited multiple volumes of the book, Methods in Nucleic Acids, and contributed numerous articles to scientific journals.
Outside of science, Grossman was active in civil rights and anti-war movements (both Vietnam and Iraq), and was an avid sailor and pilot. He was a long-time summer resident of Woods Hole, Mass. Grossman is survived by his wife of 57 years, Barbara; children Jon D. Grossman, Carl H. Grossman and Ilene R. Grossman; his sister, Gertrude Richards; and six grandchildren.