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In Memoriam: Rufus Lumry

Rufus Lumry, 92, Department of Chemistry professor emeritus, died on Saturday, March 23, 2013. A celebration of his life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at the Campus Club, Coffman Memorial Union, 300 Washington AVe. S.E., Minneapolis.

By Tim Harlow

Star Tribune

published March 27, 2013

How do proteins molecules work? That was the question Rufus Worth Lumry II was determined to answer. And he did.

Surrounded by piles of paper and overflowing bookshelves in a tiny office in the basement of Smith Hall at the University of Minnesota, the beloved chemistry professor spent his 50-year career studying the subject, and along the way conducted landmark research to explain how protein molecules work.

“He was passionate about science,” said George Barany, a University of Minnesota chemistry professor and Rufus’ longtime colleague. “His research made people think. He was very inspiring.”

Lumry had been living at the Kenwood Senior Residence in Minneapolis until he died Saturday, March 23, 2013, following a long illness. He was 92.

Lumry’s quest to crack the protein puzzle took root at Harvard University where the native of Bismarck, N.D., earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry, a master’s degree in physics, and a doctoral degree in chemical physics. He spent two years at the University of Utah on a fellowship from the Merck & Co., paid through the National Research Council before he arrived at the University of Minnesota.

During his tenure at the University from 1953 to 1991, he wrote more than 130 papers on protein function, taught freshman chemistry, and supervised more than 14 doctorate students. He mentored Nobel Prize winners, too. But he spent most of his time dedicated to research, an endeavor he continued in retirement as professor emeritus from 1991 to 2003. He published one of his most challenging papers on protein substructures in 2003, said Andreas Rosenberg, a retired University of Minnesota biochemistry professor.

“He was proud of his research,” said his son, Stephen, of Bellevue, Wash. “He always thought he was on the right track even though some people thought he was too far ahead of others.”

In 1990, the Laboratory for Biophysical Chemistry held a symposium in Kansas City, Mo., in Lumry’s honor. Called “The Thermodynamic Basis of Protein Structure and Function,” the event drew top researchers from around the world.

“It is difficult to summarize the broad range of Rufus Lumry’s many contributions to the understanding of protein function,” the publicity materials said. “It is the novelty and intuitive insight of his ideas and concepts which have been most valuable, many of which are provocative and controversial. He has had an important impact on the development of biophysical chemistry, and it is fitting to acknowledge his contributions with a symposium on the topic to which he has been so closely associated.”

Lumry was hardly the stodgy professor and researcher. He dressed flamboyantly, replete with plaid jackets, bow ties. and argyle socks. He had a gregarious personality to match, his son said. Members of the Lumry Lunch Group, composed of former chemistry students and colleagues, recall his humor, kindness and devotion to his work.

Minnesota Monthly featured him in a column called “Eccentric Minnesotans” in its May 1997 edition.

“He was one of a kind,” Barany said.

In addition to his son, Stephen, Lumry is survived by another son, Rufus Worth Lumry III, of Bellevue, Wash.; a daughter, Ann Lumry, of St. Paul, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Obituary Notice

Rufus Worth Lumry II, 92, Minneapolis, MN, died March 23, 2013, after a four month illness. Rufus was born November 3, 1920 in Bismarck, ND, to Rufus Worth Lumry and Mabel Will Lumry. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Harvard College in 1942. During World War II, he was associated with the National Defense Research Committee. Following the war, he returned to Harvard and, working with George Kistiakowsky, received his doctorate in Chemical Physics in 1948, it was at this time that his interest in enzymes developed.  In 1948, he moved to the University of Utah, joining Henry Eyring and Emil Smith among others. He moved to the University of Minnesota as assistant professor of chemistry in l954, and quickly rose in rank becoming full professor in l956. Rufus taught at the University of Minnesota until his retirement in 1990, and was the author of more than 130 publications in the field of protein biophysical chemistry.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he spent time in leading laboratories in the field of protein chemistry in Denmark, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Lumry was also involved in organizing major scientific conferences, including a Gordon Conference. He was an influential participant and organizer of the Red Cell and Hemoglobin Program Project Grant awarded to the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s. He was recipient of numerous grants from National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Navy.

A remarkable aspect of his career is that it extended well beyond his retirement in 1990. Thus, his 1995 chapter about new paradigms of protein research and his 2003 paper on protein substructures were significant contributions to the field.

Rufus presided, until late 2012, over the Lumry Lunch Group of former students and colleagues who met monthly for more than 15 years. Rufus was renowned for his humor, intelligence, and passion for science—truly one of a kind.

Rufus is survived by his children, Rufus Worth Lumry III (Patricia), Bellevue, WA, Ann Lumry (Bo Hedlund), St. Paul, MN and Stephen Lumry (Shirley), Bellevue, WA, his grandchildren Amanda Wengerd (Loren), Kirkland, WA, Rufus Lumry IV (Amy) Atlanta, GA, Christopher Lumry, Cambridge, MA, Erik Hedlund (Julianne), Minneapolis, MN, and Emilie Hedlund, Minneapolis, MN and his six great grand-children. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, his former wife Gayle Kelly Comfort, and his life partner Bernice (Maria) Meyer.

Memorials are preferred to the Science Museum of Minnesota, Planned Parenthood, and the MN Network of Hospice and Palliative Care.

The family would like to thank the staff of Carondelet Village, North Memorial Hospice and the Fairview Hospice team for their kindness and wonderful care. And to all of the friends and family who supported Rufus as his health declined we send our deepest appreciation.