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March 20, 2012

In Memoriam: Paul LaCelle, former biophysics chair

Paul LeCellePaul LaCelle, a Medical Center faculty member for more than 40 years, former department chair, and former senior dean, died March 9 at age 82.

LaCelle, a 1959 graduate of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, joined the faculty in 1964 as an instructor of what was then the Department of Radiation Biology and Biophysics. He was named a professor in 1974 and chaired what is now the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics from 1977 to 1996.

He was named acting senior associate dean for graduate studies in 1996 and was appointed to the position in 2001, serving until 2008. After stepping down as dean, LaCelle became a professor emeritus of pharmacology and physiology. He continued to work in research and in mentoring scientists until just a few months before his death.

“Paul LaCelle served our School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Medical Center for many years by recruiting many excellent scientists and fostering solid research,” says Mark Taubman, dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “We are proud of what he provided us, and we mourn his death.”

Marshall Lichtman, professor of medicine and a former dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, calls LaCelle “one of the great contributors to this Medical Center.”

“He was a fine physician and hematologist but chose to focus on blood cell research, and in so doing he pioneered the field of blood cell biophysics at this school,” Lichtman says. “As chair, he developed the department and recruited outstanding scientists to the school. He was a thoughtful and gentle person and had the great respect and affection of those who worked with him. I valued his friendship and will miss him dearly.”

During LaCelle’s time as senior associate dean, three new graduate programs were developed: a PhD in translational biomedical sciences, a PhD in epidemiology, and a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. The number of graduate students also increased in parallel with the increase in research faculty.

“Paul was one of the reasons I have spent my entire career in Rochester,” says Robert (Berch) Griggs, a former chair of neurology. “He spent great effort on making sure excellence was recognized and rewarded. He worked, often behind the scenes and with no interest in being recognized for his own contributions, to make the University of Rochester and Rochester the best we could be. Brilliance, integrity, and loyalty.”

LaCelle was the last chair of what was the Department of Biophysics. His tenure spanned the era when the department focused on the Cold War mission of understanding the effects of radiation on humans to the current interest on details of molecular structure and how they relate to health problems.

As senior associate dean for graduate studies he was “extraordinarily successful,” says Robert Bambara, who succeeded him as chair of the merged Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

“He advocated for better recruitment, higher stipends, and superior mentoring for graduate students,” says Bambara, now a professor of microbiology and immunology. “Through his effort, we accepted graduate researchers who went on to make some of the most important discoveries in the Medical Center over the last 10 years and provided the research base needed to greatly improve our grant funding. His gentle approach helped match compatible student and mentor, and solved all manner of problems so that students could focus on their research productivity.”

LaCelle, who was born July 4, 1929, earned his undergraduate degree at Houghton College. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

LaCelle’s wife, June Dukeshire LaCelle, died in 2008. He is survived by his four children, two sisters, two brothers, and five grandchildren.

The University flag was lowered in his memory March 20. Charitable donations can be made to the Wilmot Cancer Center.

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