Richard H. Schlessinger, a professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester who worked to synthesize and adapt naturally occurring chemicals for use in treating human maladies, died December 11. He was 62 and had been a member of the Rochester faculty for more than three decades.
Schlessinger's research focused on re-creating in the laboratory natural compounds which could serve to control a variety of human ills. These included substances to regulate cholesterol, inhibit tumors, lower blood pressure, and modify immune responses. In recent years, his research group achieved the efficient laboratory synthesis of Virginiamycin M2, an antibiotic effective in fighting potentially lethal infections caused by bacterial strains resistant to conventional antibiotics.
"Professor Richard Schlessinger was an artisan, whose unique way of visualizing the shapes and interactions of molecules resulted in efficient and elegant methods for constructing stereochemically complex natural products," says James Farrar, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry. "The methods pioneered by his research group have had widespread applications in the pharmaceutical industry, and many of his former students have continued their careers at such leading companies as Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb."
Schlessinger was a colorful teacher of sophomore organic chemistry at Rochester and a demanding mentor to graduate students. He was internationally recognized as a pioneer in the discovery of reliable, general methods for the conversion of small organic molecules into intricate larger structures with precise stereochemistry. "He had an artist's eye for designing and executing the construction of complex, biologically important molecules," says colleague Andrew S. Kende, Charles Frederick Houghton Professor of Chemistry. "His techniques, and the students who worked with him, have had a profound impact on the science of organic chemistry."
Born in Greeley, Colo. on September 20, 1935, Schlessinger graduated from Edinboro State College in Pennsylvania in 1957 and received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1964. He did postdoctoral research at Harvard and Columbia before joining the Rochester faculty in 1966.
He was a member of the American Chemical Society and the New York Academy of Science and an associate member of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Schlessinger is survived by his wife, Lisa M. Demeter of Rochester, a brother, Edward D. Schlessinger of California, and nieces, uncles, and aunts. Contributions in his honor may be made to the Humane Society Capital Campaign, P.O. Box 66075, Fairport, N.Y. 14450.