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In Memoriam: James A. Fee (1939 – 2012)



In Memoriam: James A. Fee (1939 – 2012)


James A. Fee, a professor of research at The Scripps Research Institute, passed away April 17 at age 72 after a battle with prostate cancer.

“Jim was a very warm and generous person and an outstanding scientist,” said Peter Wright, chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. “He will be greatly missed. I send my deepest sympathies to Jim’s family, friends, and colleagues.”

Associate Professor David Stout, who shared space in his lab with Fee, noted: “He was a consummate scientist and gentle, sensitive human being. He had a genius for attracting the right people for the problem. At the same time, he was humble and unfailingly remained focused on the ideas and results, and never on the ownership of them. His career represents a paradigm of deep commitment to a problem with a laser-like focus on the correct model system to address it. He is very sadly missed. Nevertheless, the legacy of his research and the inspiration of his achievements remain, while his research program goes forward with vigor through his colleagues and collaborators.”

42-Year Career in Science

Fee, who earned a BA in chemistry/history from Pasadena College and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Southern California, began his 42-year career in science as an assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

From there, he served 15 years at the University of Michigan as a research biophysicist in the Institute of Science and Technology and a professor in the School of Medicine. Following posts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico Medical School, in 1993 Fee arrived at the University of California, San Diego, where he remained research scientist emeritus.

When Fee joined Scripps Research in 2002, he brought with him his long-running National Institutes of Health grant on “Mechanisms of Respiration” and a broad interest in metalloprotein structure and function. Stout notes that most of all, Fee was absorbed in understanding the cytochrome ba3 oxidase from Thermus thermophilus, “which represented to him the ultimate problem in bioenergetics. Jim’s approach to understanding ba3 was total; he wanted to understand electron transfer, oxygen diffusion, proton translocation, and most critically, the chemical basis of the vectorial proton production concomitant with reduction of oxygen to water.” In pursuit of this understanding, Fee forged a number of collaborations, including with the Scripps Research laboratories of Lou Noodleman and Arthur Olson.

The author of more than 150 papers in scholarly journals, Fee was awarded honors including the Harry J. Duell Award from the University of Southern California and a National Science Foundation Fellowship at the University of Göteborg, Sweden. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, and American Society of Biological Chemists.

Fee is survived by his wife, Laurel Corona; son, Michael Sean; and daughter, Kathleen Suzanne.

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