Deceased December 16, 2022

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In Memory

Richard L. Soffer died on December 16, 2022, at the age of 90. He was born in Baltimore and raised in New York City, where he attended Fieldston and graduated in 1950.

After graduation from Amherst, Richard obtained an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School in 1958. He then received post-graduate training for several years, vacillating between internal medicine and basic research in biochemistry and genetics before deciding to devote himself exclusively to biochemical research. His professional career was spent at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at Cornell University Medical School, from which he retired in 1994 as professor of biochemistry and medicine.

Richard enjoyed working with enzymes, and his research was concerned with their identification, purification and biochemical properties. Among the enzymes that he and his students and Fellows characterized, his favorites fell into a widely distributed class that he called aminoacyl-tRNA-protein transferases. These enzymes provide a post-translational mechanism for protein modification. He and his colleagues also purified and described L-triiodothyronine amino transferase, an enzyme involved in the metabolism of thyroid hormone, and L-proline dehydrogenase, the primary enzyme of catabolism for the amino acid, proline. Richard was also among the first to purify and characterize angiotensin-converting enzyme, and the interesting atypical testicular variant of it was discovered in his laboratory. Richard's group developed antibodies against converting enzyme, and he was a major speaker at the symposium where, in 1977, Squibb scientists announced the structure of the first clinically useful chemical inhibitor. Although Richard always felt he had a terrible head for business, for once he was on target in this regard when he returned from the meeting and suggested that the drug would be a major antihypertensive agent and would achieve annual billion dollar sales.

Richard retired in 1994 to devote himself exclusively to his lifelong passion for birding and ornithological books. He enjoyed international birding greatly and traveled to numerous remote spots such as Halmahera, Madagascar and Sao Thomé, to name just a few. However, he also relished the notion of concentrating his efforts on a small area over a long period. Thus it was that he examined the bird life over 20 years at Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut near his home, and kept exhaustive, systematic computerized notes concerned with the almost 300 species that he found there. 

In 1980, a birding trip to New Guinea stimulated Richard to become an ornithological bibliophile. He became a respected connoisseur of antiquarian ornithological books and served as an expert adviser in developing one of the world’s important private collections. In addition, he accumulated his own more modest, but interesting, library. He took pride and pleasure in preparing a meticulous catalog of his collection using modern principles of descriptive bibliography that he learned at the University of Virginia. Richard regarded his book collecting as a creative act and donated his collection to Amherst, where it resides today as the Richard L. Soffer ’54 Ornithology Collection.

Richard’s wife, the former Madeline Magzis, whom he married in 1968, died in 2004. The couple had two children: a son, Philip, of Berkeley, California; and a daughter, Abigail, who died in 2005. Richard is survived by his son Philip; his daughter-in-law, Samantha Cooper; his grandchildren Aaron, Caroline and Josiah Soffer; and by his partner, Jacqueline R. Werner.

Richard L. Soffer ’54