Purnell Choppin, 91, Dies; Researcher Laid Groundwork for Pandemic Fight
In addition to his daughter, his wife, Joan, survives him.
After taking over at the Hughes Institute, Dr Choppin loved to tell his colleagues the story of his meeting with their famous recluse benefactor. In 1938 Hughes, an accomplished aviator as well as industrialist, stopped in Baton Rouge to refuel, and Arthur Choppin took 9-year-old Purnell and his brother, Arthur Jr., to see him. They shook hands, but, he said, his first memory was that Hughes was “very tall.”
Dr Choppin graduated from high school at 16 and entered LSU, where he also attended medical school. He received his doctorate in 1953 and completed his residency at the University of Washington. He served in the Air Force, Japan, from 1954 to 1955.
He started at Rockefeller University as a postdoctoral fellow and was appointed professor in 1959. He then moved to administration and was vice president and dean of graduate studies when the Howard Hughes Medical Institute hired him. .
Howard Hughes had founded the institute in 1953, and later transferred all of his holdings in the Hughes Aircraft Company to him for tax purposes, creating a delicate arrangement in which a nonprofit medical research organization owned the one of the country’s largest defense contractors.
Just weeks before Dr Choppin’s arrival, the institute sold the company to General Motors for $ 5.2 billion, immediately making it one of the richest philanthropic organizations in the country.
In 1987, the institute’s president was forced to resign following a financial scandal and Dr Choppin was appointed to replace him. Over the next decade, it made it a leading funding source for biomedical research, distributing some $ 4.5 billion to hundreds of scientists as well as undergraduate and secondary science education. .
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