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Former Provost, Professor and Renowned Biochemist Robert Goldberger Dies at 69

Robert Goldberger

Robert F. Goldberger, provost emeritus and professor emeritus of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, died on April 5 from a stroke. He was 69. A memorial service will be held on Sat.urday, April 12, at 6:00 p.m. in St. Paul's Chapel.

Goldberger had a varied career as a physician, research scientist, science administrator and academic leader in higher education.

Coming to Columbia in 1981 to assume the role of vice president for Health Sciences and professor of biochemistry, Goldberger was appointed provost in 1983 by then-president Michael I. Sovern.

As provost, Goldberger was credited with initiating a strong program of interaction between the University's biomedical research scientists and the corporate sector (including the establishment of the science and technology development office). He also spearheaded a campaign to develop a six-acre site near the Health Sciences campus in Washington Heights. Named Audobon Research Park, the facility continues to be a leading incubator for biotechnology companies.

Goldberger widened faculty participation in the academic administration of the University. One example of this was the formation of the tenure review advisory committee designed to advise the provost on the composition of ad hoc committees and on the tenure review process in general.

Goldberger was also credited with many key administrative appointments. He chaired the search committee that recruited Jonathan Cole to the vice presidency of arts and sciences before Cole assumed the position of provost following Goldberger's departure.

Goldberger was known to stress to fellow administrators the importance of recognizing that they were at Columbia to facilitate the primary purposes of the University: research, teaching and professional practice.

"I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the University during the wonderful first phase of the Sovern administration -- a phase of revitalization and growth," said Golberger in 1989.

After serving in 1987 as Columbia's acting-president, and then two more years as provost, Goldberger left Columbia in 1989 to return to medicine. He joined the faculty of the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU's School of Medicine. After spending two years there, he left to pursue a career in counseling.

A graduate of Harvard College in 1954 and NYU Medical School in 1958, Goldberger enjoyed a distinguished career as a biomedical scientist before his appointment to Columbia. He performed postgraduate work at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and the Enzyme Institute of the University of Wisconsin.

In 1961, Goldberger joined the National Institute of Health  (N.I.H.) in Bethesda, MD, to work with Dr. Christian B. Anfinsen. The studies they and their colleagues conducted on the mechanism by which proteins fold to become active enzymes later led to Anfinsen being a co-recipient for the 1972 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Goldberger was a pioneer in the new field of molecular biology, concentrating on the co-ordinate regulation of gene expression in bacteria. He was chosen to lead the major expansion of the National Cancer Institute's program in molecular biology, becoming chief of one of its largest laboratories in 1975. In 1980, because of his expertise at the interface of medicine and basic research, Goldberger was appointed director of the entire Bethesda-based N.I.H. intramural research program (the largest biomedical research institution in the world).

Since leaving NYU, Goldberger spent more and more time writing fiction. His first novel was a murder mystery set at a private research university. Goldberger even wrote a screenplay based on the novel that is currently under consideration for production. His second novel centers around scientific fraud.

Goldberger wrote more than 80 scientific research articles and authored one book of science. He edited numerous books and received a multitude of awards for his activities in research, academic administration and public service, though claimed to be most proud of the awards he won as a competitive figure skater.

 He is survived by his wife, three daughters, three grandchildren, two sisters, and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

Published: Apr 11, 2003
Last modified: Apr 11, 2003

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