by Leah Hyatt
Ralph F. Hirschmann, Ph.D., former university professor of biomedical
research at MUSC, passed away at age 87 due to kidney disease on June
20 in Worcester, Pa.
Dr. Ralph Hirschmann
Born in Fürth, Germany, Hirschmann immigrated to the United States in
1937 and became a citizen in 1944. He received an undergraduate degree
from Oberlin College in Ohio and later earned a doctorate degree in
organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1950.
That same year, Hirschmann began his 37-year career at Merck Research
Laboratories in Rahway, N.J.
Starting out as a process research chemist, Hirschmann became the
director of medicinal chemistry and eventually retired as senior vice
president of basic research in 1987. In 1969, Hirschmann helped lead
the Merck team that performed the first in-solution synthesis of enzyme
ribonuclease. While at Merck, Hirschmann and his research team also
developed several widely-used drugs such as Vasotec, Lisinopril,
Primaxin, Mevacor, Proscar and Ivomec.
After retiring from Merck at age 65, Hirschmann joined the faculty at
the University of Pennsylvania as the Rao Makineni Professor of
Bioorganic Chemistry. While at Penn, he collaboratively established the
field of peptidomimetics. Hirschmann was associated with more than 100
patents and co-authored more than 150 papers.
Hirschmann also held a teaching appointment at MUSC from 1987 to 1999
as the university professor of biomedical research. He was the
recipient of an honorary degree in 1997 recognizing his contributions
in biomedical research. MUSC also established an endowed chair in his
honor—the Ralph F. Hirschmann Professorship of Basic Biomedical
Hirschmann received many awards and honors during his career. In 2000,
he received the National Medal of Science in Chemistry from President
Bill Clinton, and he was inducted into the American Chemical Society
(ACS) Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame in 2007. He was also awarded the
ACS Alfred Burger Award in Medicinal Chemistry, the ACS Arthur C. Cope
Award, the William H. Nichols Medal Award of the ACS New York Section,
the Edward E. Smissman Bristol-Myers Squibb Award of the ACS Division
of Medicinal Chemistry, the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal
Award and the Chemical Pioneer Award, the Merck & Co. Inc. Board of
Directors Scientific Award, and the National Academy of Sciences Award
for the Industrial Application of Science. He served as the chairman of
the Board of Trustees of the Gordon Research Conference in 1984, was
elected to the Board of National Academy of Sciences, and also served
on a study section of the National Institutes of Health.
Hirschmann is survived by his wife, Lucy, of 58 years; son, Ralph;
daughter, Carla Hummel; and six grandchildren. A memorial service to
celebrate Hirschmann’s life and work will be held July 14 at Irvine
Auditorium in Philadelphia, on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his memory to Doctors
Without Borders USA, P.O. Box 5030, Hagerstown, M.D., 21741-5030;
National Kidney Foundation of Delaware Valley, 111 South Independent
Mall East, Suite 411, Philadelphia, P.A., 19106-2521; or the
Philadelphia Orchestra, Annual Fund Office, 260 South Broad Street,
16th Floor, Philadelphia, P.A., 19102.
Ralph Hirschmann was a great scientist and a wonderful human
being. He was a valued advisor to us on developing our research efforts in
areas such as structural biology. He will be deeply missed by many here at
–Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., MUSC President
Ralph Hirschmann was a gentleman and an outstanding
scientist. During his time as a university professor at MUSC he helped set the
course toward building structural biology capability here. I valued very much my discussions with him,
and missed them greatly when he was no longer able to travel to Charleston. Shortly before
his death, I had written to him that the Drug Discovery
Building was finally in
motion. It is regretful that he was not able to see its completion.
--Daniel Knapp, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology and Director, MUSC Proteomics
invested significant thought and energy in advising MUSC about the
future of research and how to develop the Department of Biochemistry as
an anchor for basic research. I knew Ralph as a very astute yet
modest scientist and humanist. He cared about the things he did
(research, science development, drug discovery) and the people he
interacted with. In Ralph I had an extremely valuable mentor, and
although we had only a few direct interactions over the years, these
were precious, and we were always on the ‘same page’. Ralph adopted
MUSC and its drive to excellence as an important personal cause. He was
the true gentleman-scientist.
—Yusuf Hannun, M.D., Ralph Hirschmann Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
As a consultant to the university and our department, he was
invaluable because of his insights and thoughtful advice. It was always a pleasure to meet with him.
--Perry Halushka, M.D., Ph.D., Dean, College
of Graduate Studies and
Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine
MUSC benefited hugely from a close relationship with Ralph
Hirschmann that spanned two decades. After he retired from Merck & Co. in
1987, Dr. Hirschmann served as a distinguished university professor at MUSC and
spent several weeks every year in residence at MUSC until “doing the Charleston” got to be
difficult. Ralph was not only a superb
scientist, but he was also an adept manager of people, a highly skilled
strategist and an absolutely wonderful human being. He was a valuable ally, an astute advisor and
a treasured friend. MUSC is a better place for our association with Ralph Hirschmann,
and the world of science is smaller without him.
--Peggy Schachte, Director, Office of Research
Ralph Hirschmann was the verp epitome of the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar.”
He was brilliant, gentle, kind and very humble. I consider him a good
friend who contributed greatly to the Medical University of South
Carolina's progress. I will miss him terribly.
He was a fine man in every way – a true gentleman, a
brilliant scientist, an excellent mentor, and a wise advisor. Much of the
research growth at MUSC on the way to the first $100 million mark was at a time
when he was advising the administration, and many of the decisions made were
certainly influenced by his input. Knowing and working with him was a great
—James B. Edwards, DMD
--Rosalie Crouch, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ophthamology
Friday, July 10, 2009