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Robert R. (Bob) Becker has experienced a very successful academic career of his own. The son and grandson of Lutheran ministers, Bob was born 88 years ago in Rabbit Lake township, Minnesota, about five miles from the metropolis of Aitkin. The family soon moved to North Dakota, where Bob went to school through two years of junior college. His interest in chemistry began at age 12, and he developed the goal of becoming a college professor during high school, when he discovered the special appeal of how biology overlapped and intersected with chemistry. A fellow student with a Harvard background pushed Bob in that direction, and he soon found himself with a scholarship to Harvard. But the year was 1942. After just one semester, Bob volunteered for the Army Air Corps, where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1944. When the war ended, it was back to North Dakota to finish college, followed by graduate degrees in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, where an enduring special interest in protein chemistry blossomed.
Professionally, Professor Becker was one of the first to chemically modify proteins by attaching polypeptides to native proteins, thus enabling the study of changes in their physical and biological properties. This capability is significant because of its immunological and enzymological ramifications, e.g., resistance to disease. Bob has also been able to demonstrate some of the properties which lead to aggregation of proteins, which is ultimately deleterious, as in the case of Alzheimer’s. He has done a great deal of collaborative work, with funding for his own research from sources including NSF, NIH, and the Atomic Energy Commission. Two sabbatical leaves stand out in Bob’s wealth of rich memories. One was at Brookhaven National Labs and included giving a course in protein chemistry in the Oak Ridge-University of Tennessee graduate program. The other, at the University of Washington, included a memorable dive in the Alvin research submarine.
Prior to arriving at OSU, Bob taught for eight years at Columbia University and worked as a biochemist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was during the Columbia years that he met Mary, a graduate student with an equivalent enthusiasm for the study of proteins. They were married in 1956 and have worked together professionally and domestically ever since. One daughter, Nancy, is an Assistant Vice President/Publisher at Prentice Hall. The other daughter, Janet, is Professor of Geophysics at the University of Hawaii. And then there are those five wonderful grandchildren. Sophia, the eldest, graduated from Yale with a double major in Physics and Mechanical Engineering and is now a graduate student in physical oceanography at MIT. Little sister Anna is a sophomore physics major at MIT, while cousin Jenny is a freshman at Auburn in marine biology. Jenny’s younger siblings Katie and Jeff are waiting in the wings. In addition to their academic prowess, all five are accomplished athletes.
Bob Becker’s faculty service to OSU has been beyond noteworthy. He was one of the early Presidents of the Faculty Senate, and he has been a leader in AAUP, the Association of Oregon Faculties, the Board of Intercollegiate Athletics, and countless committees, task forces, and advisory groups. Awards received include the College of Science’s Carter Award for Outstanding Teaching, the Ritchie Distinguished Professor Award, the OSU Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award, and the Curtis D. Mumford Faculty Service Award. Since his retirement in 1989, Bob has been an officer and leader in several retirement organizations, including the board chairmanship of Oregon Public Retirees, Inc. He has also been active at state and national levels of the American Heart Association and has worked from the 1970s onward on behalf of anti-tobacco legislation at both state and local levels. In the latter connection, he is a proud recipient of the Maurine Neuberger Award for Distinguished Career Achievement.
Since his retirement, one of Bob’s most exciting experiences was a teaching assignment (in graduate biochemistry) at Ocean University in Qingdao, PRC. Bob still pays daily visits to his office on campus, although he confesses that the visits are largely for social purposes. He says he is “having a ball” watching the arrival and progress of new biochemistry/biophysics departmental faculty. He enjoys bowling, and he is an avid member of a “reading group” which includes seven other notable OSU retirees. Bob and Mary find pleasure in spending time at their cabin near Sisters (built from a kit, with major help from family, grad students, and friends) and in the quiet pastime of feeding the ducks on the banks of the Willamette. After such a long, active, and productive career, a bit of relaxation is certainly well-deserved.