In memoriam

Richard E. McCarty, former Krieger School dean and renowned plant physiologist, dies at 85

McCarty was a central figure in advances in the understanding of photosynthesis and photosynthetic energy conversion

Richard E. McCarty, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences from 1999 to 2002 and professor emeritus in the Department of Biology, died at home at Roland Park Place in Baltimore on Feb. 23, following an illness. He was 85.

Richard E. McCarty

Image caption: Richard E. McCarty

Image credit: Johns Hopkins University

The renowned plant physiologist specialized in protein and membrane biochemistry, especially structure, regulation, and mechanisms of the chloroplast ATP synthase and the transport of ions across the inner membrane of the chloroplast envelope. When awarding him the Charles F. Kettering award in 1994, the American Society of Plant Physiologists called him a "central figure" since the 1960s in advances in the understanding of photosynthesis and photosynthetic energy conversion.

McCarty was PhD advisor, mentor, and friend to Eric Johnson, senior lecturer in the Department of Biology. "It was a true privilege to work with such a passionate scientist, and that passion was passed on to his students and post-docs. Dick was a great educator," Johnson said. If McCarty found an error in a textbook, Johnson recalled, he would contact the publisher immediately to make sure the next edition was corrected. "It was important that the best resources be given to students. I think he was so proud of Johns Hopkins because he saw the university as a magnificent source of scientific knowledge, and he worked hard to improve that science and expanded it for each new class."

A Baltimore native, McCarty earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1960 and a PhD in biochemistry in 1964, both at Johns Hopkins, and did postdoctoral work at the Public Health Research Institute of the City of New York. He joined the biochemistry faculty at Cornell University in 1966, and returned to Hopkins in 1990 as professor and chair of the biology department. After stepping down as chair in 1997, he was William D. Gill Professor of Biology until his retirement in 2002. He was named James Barclay Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences after serving two years as interim dean and then as senior advisor on faculty affairs in the dean's office. The endowed position was established in 1999 by university trustee J. Barclay Knapp Jr. in honor of his father, a highly decorated major general in the U.S. Air Force.

"I have a deep love for this place," McCarty said when accepting the deanship in 1999.

"Dick McCarty was deeply valuable to both the biology department and the Krieger School as a whole," said Christopher S. Celenza, current James B. Knapp dean. "He was universally respected as both esteemed scientist and adept administrator, and was relied on by university leadership."

When Joel Schildbach joined the biology department in 1996, he first knew McCarty as department chair, then as dean, and finally as faculty colleague. "Dick was a fundamentally decent person. I saw him from a lot of different angles and in different, often stressful, roles, but he was always the same decent, thoughtful guy," said Schildbach, now program director for the Division of Graduate Education at the National Science Foundation. "There wasn't a lot of flash. For his science, he and his students would take these ridiculous volumes of spinach and would grind and extract and purify until they were left with tiny amounts of protein for their work. But it was careful, solid, good work, and you could trust the results."

McCarty authored more than 120 articles, and served as associate editor of Plant Physiology and on the editorial boards of four other journals. Johns Hopkins awarded him the President's Medal in 2002. McCarty's father was Maclyn McCarty, a geneticist who found that the genetic material of living cells is composed of DNA.