Remembering Emeritus Professor Verne N. Schumaker

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We are sad to report that Emeritus Professor Verne Norman Schumaker passed away on July 6, 2017 at age 87.

Please help us to support The Verne Schumaker Student Support Fund to support undergraduate and graduate student research fellowships.

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“Verne was a wonderful colleague and friend, a great teacher and mentor to students, and a true role model,” said Professor Emil Reisler. “He contributed immensely to biophysical analysis of biological macromolecules. I have benefited immeasurably from his kind support and wise mentorship over many years, especially as a beginning assistant professor in the department. He will be greatly missed.”

A native Californian, Schumaker was born in McCloud, California on September 16, 1929. He began his college work at Stanford University and then interrupted his education to serve in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army in Korea. He returned to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with his A.B. in Physics with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1952.  He remained on the Berkeley campus to do graduate work in biophysics, and in a remarkably short time, he received his Ph.D. in 1954.  It was while he was a graduate student with Professor John Gofman, one of the early pioneers in work with lipoproteins, that he began his investigations of lipoproteins. Schumaker’s thesis work involved, among other things, the development of a theoretical basis for use in analyzing the ultracentrifugal behavior of lipoproteins; this treatment was then tested with both normal and abnormal lipoprotein preparations. In postdoctoral work with Professor Howard Schachman, he broadened his interests to research on nucleic acids.

Schumaker joined the UCLA faculty in 1965. He continued his active interest in lipoprotein characterization, metabolism, and function throughout his long research career as a faculty member – first in Biochemistry in the Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania (1957-1965), and up until his retirement in 1994 as Professor of Molecular Biology in the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Molecular Biology Institute.

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(Left) Early photo of Schumaker.  (Right) Schumaker (front right) with his group at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Verne was a master scientific communicator,” said Professor Albert Courey. “I remember sitting in his office when I interviewed here while he used some really simple but effective plastic models that I presume he designed to demonstrate, with utter lucidity, what they had learned about the complement system. He had a very warm personality – you always got the feeling he was happy to see you.”

After he retired in 1994, Schumaker continued conducting research and mentoring students until 2015. During that time, he also co-authored 14 papers and co-taught several classes.

“Dr. Schumaker’s warm personality and sincere enthusiasm for science made him an ideal mentor,” said Schumaker’s last graduate student and postdoc, William “Billy” Munroe (Ph.D. ’10), now a lecturer at California State University-Channel Islands. “I always enjoyed visiting his office to talk with him about our project. His kind encouragement through the tough portions of the project was a great source of motivation for me. His caring personality made you feel that he truly cared for your well-being, not only as a scientist, but also as a person.”

In addition to his lipoprotein research, Schumaker’s work on the structure and mechanism of activation of the first component of the complement cascade, which leads to activation of defense mechanisms, was a major advance in molecular immunology. His laboratory was also involved in defining the nature and extent of segmented flexibility in IgG antibodies and its relationship to their biological function, along with other studies of antibody structure and function.

“My friendship with Verne dates back more than forty years,” said Professor Peter Zavodszky, Institute of Enzymology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “He was a model scientist and teacher to me. I always admired his total devotion to anything he did. During his sabbatical in 1987/88 in Budapest he completely reorganized my lab and introduced reforms in the Institute which still have their effect today. The Physical-biochemistry course, which I teach at UCLA each summer, rests substantially on Verne’s early notes and problem sets. Verne’s physical disappearance, is a great loss for the whole complement community and his contributions are now in most complement handbooks. He is still with us since we remember him with esteem and admiration.”

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(Left) Circa 1990 – Professor Verne Schumaker (front right) with his group and Professor Peter Zavodszky (front left). (Right) In 2010, Schumaker hooding his last graduate student William “Billy” Munroe commencement.

Schumaker served as associate director of the Molecular Biology Institute from 1975 to 1978 and Vice Chair of the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 1981 to 1984. The awards and honors he received include the 1973 McCoy Award for Outstanding Research, a UCLA Alumni Association Teaching award in 1977, and the H. Murray Clark Lectureship at San Jose State University in 1984.

“In thinking of a word to describe Verne, “enthusiasm” comes immediately to mind,” said Dr. Don Puppione, a co-author on several papers with Schumaker. “After I joined the faculty in The School of Public Health, I went over to see Verne who gave me a world wind tour of the newly opened MBI. I met all the graduate students and was, of course, shown where the preparative and analytical ultracentrifuges were located. Verne was always proud of his research with these instruments. He began using them to study lipoproteins at the Donner Lab on the Cal campus in Berkeley and he used them throughout his research career, including for his final project at UCLA. Verrne always used yellow legal pads to write out his lectures and to prepare for meetings. He knew how to communicate well.”

A leader in stimulating lipoprotein research at both the national and local levels, Schumaker served as a member and then chair of the Biochemistry and Biophysics Study Section of NIH from 1973 to 1977, and was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1974 to 1980.  He was Chairman of a Gordon Conference on Lipid Metabolism, and served on the Advisory Board of the Specialized Center of Research on Atherosclerosis for the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.  At UCLA, Schumaker served for fifteen years as Principal Investigator for a large USPHS Program Project Grant in Molecular Genetic Approaches in Atherosclerosis, and also as a Principal Investigator for a USPHS Training Grant Program in Atherosclerosis Research.

He is survived by his wife Carolyn Schumaker and son Mark Schumaker, a professor of mathematics at Washington State University.

A memorial service celebrating Schumaker’s life was held on Friday, September 22, 2017 at the UCLA Faculty Center.

To honor Schumaker, we have established the The Verne Schumaker Student Support Fund to support undergraduate and graduate student research fellowships within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Our fund raising campaign goal is $100,000. Upon reaching our goal, the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will make a match of $100,000 to increase the impact of the fund. To contribute, please visit the online giving website.

To view more photos and memorabilia from Schumaker’s life, click here to view an on-line gallery of slides that were shown at Schumaker’s 60th birthday celebration at UCLA in 1989.

Photos courtesy of Prof. Mark Schumaker, Dr. Martin Phillips, Dr. Billy Monroe, and the Molecular Biology Instiute.