Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the University of Wisconsin on the Death of Professor David PerlmanĀ 

(Faculty Document 530; 12 September 1983)

During the past two and one-half years, Professor David Perlman, despite his terminal illness, cancer, showed courage, will, zeal, unflagging curiosity and discipline of mind. These qualities provided life to his days and days to his life then as those qualities had throughout all his days. Born in Madison in 1920, educated at West High, David Perlman received his degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; B.A. (Chemistry, 1941, with thesis honors); M.S. (Biochemistry, 1943); and Ph.D. (Biochemistry, 1945).

These were exciting years for microbial technology and Wisconsin's Department of Biochemistry was one of the world's outstanding centers of research. Perlman's tutors, Professor W.H. Peterson and M.J. Johnson, were both understanding of and sympathetic to his inquiring mind and allowed more flexibility than was usual for graduate students in those days. On one occasion, he biked (no ten speeders in those days!) 200 miles from Madison to the Northern Region Research Laboratory at Peoria to see, first hand, the penicillin research there underway. He often joked that his eight-year tenure as clarinetist in the UW Band was a record; he served 4 years each as undergraduate and as graduate student.

Following short periods at Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., and Merck and Co., Dr. Perlman joined the Squibb Institute for Medical Research as a Microbial Biochemist. He studied streptomycin fermentation (where he discovered the enzyme mannosidostreptomycinase, important in converting mannosidostreptomycin to the more clinically useful streptomycin); process development aspects of neomycin, vitamin B12 and tetracycline fermentations; and practical application of mammalian cell culture. Remarkable accomplishments during this period included discovery of the conversion of Reichstein's compound S to hydroxylated steroids, the commercially important microbial hydroxylation of the 16 position of steroids, and the potential for metabolic inhibitors to influence the biosynthesis of tetracycline (resulting in the demethyl series of these clinically important antibiotics).

In 1966, a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Dr. Perlman to begin studies on Vitamin B12-Antagonists at Professor's Barker's Berkeley Laboratory and also to initiate studies on the microbial transformation of peptide antibiotics starting with the actinomycins.

After some 23 years in the fermentation phase of the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Perlman moved, in 1967, to the University of Wisconsin, first as Knapp visiting professor, then as Professor of Pharmaceutical Biochemistry in the School of Pharmacy. His father, Professor Selig Perlman, the noted labor historian, had been on the faculty of the University for 45 years. The opportunities at the School of Pharmacy included the possibilities of enlarging his research activities and also teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. From 1968 until June 1975 he served as Dean of the School while carrying out his teaching responsibilities and supervising an active research program. Unusual administrative problems occurred during this period, including major damage to the Pharmacy School building when a bomb was exploded in the adjacent Mathematics Research Center. Nevertheless, during his tenure as administrator the size of the student body of the school doubled, the faculty increased by 150 percent accompanied by substantial increase in research space.

During his deanship, Dr. Perlman taught an undergraduate class at 7:45 a.m. each day, led the largest (or second largest) research group in the school (depending on the year) and carried lunch daily unless noon meetings were scheduled. He met, personally, at lunch and from 4:40 - 6:00 P.M. each undergraduate and graduate student in the school because of his consuming desire to know students, their plans, hopes, and dreams. This contact led to mutual regard, respect, and affection, and, at a later point in his illness, to the creation by Phi Delta Chi Pharmaceutical Fraternity of the David Perlman Scholarship Award and to the spontaneous donation of blood for transfusing purposes by over 60 percent of this undergraduate students.

Upon returning to full-time teaching and research, he increased his activities. These included serving as editor of 27 book, including the Advances in Applied Microbiology series and the Annual Reports on Fermentation Processes, and participation as a member of the editorial boards of the five journals. His nearly 300 scientific and 75 nonscientific, but professional publication attest to his enormous capacity for productive work. He had 28 U.S. Patents.

Professor Perlman was also an active participant in the affairs of scientific organizations. He served as Chairman of the program committee of Interscience Conferences on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in 1965-67; Chairman of the Gordon Conferences on Coenzymes and Metabolic Pathways (1967); Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the International Symposium on the Genetics of Industrial Micro-organisms (1978); Chairman of the Division of Microbial Biochemistry and Technology (1965 and 1976), American Chemical Society; Chairman of the Fermentation Division, American Society for Microbiology (1974); member of the Board of Governors of the American Academy for Microbiology (1971-74); member of the Board of Directory (and later President) of the American Society for Microbiology Foundation, Inc. (1972-75); and Co-Chairman, New York Academy of Sciences Conference on Vitamin B12 Coenzymes (1964).

His interest in promoting continuing education for the professional microbial biochemist was attested to by his organization of some thirty symposia at meetings of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Microbiology, and the Society for Industrial Microbiology. As Dean, he provided seed money to Extension Services in Pharmacy for the initial development of audio-cassette courses for continuing professional education; these have reached over 56,000 students, world-wide. He organized and led several Industrial Fermentation short courses for University Extension. This effort reflected conviction that the professional microbial biochemist and fermentation microbiologist must be kept current.

Characteristic of David Perlman was the intensity of this effort, no matter the topic. He was at home discussing coin and stamp collections with teenagers, ornithology with amateur (and better) bird watchers, or baseball statistics and league standings with the sports minded, and even the new Madison or old Madison lore and history buffs and city planners. His packets of information about living in Madison were so thoroughly developed for candidates for faculty posts that they could stand as models that chambers of commerce or real estate bureaus would be well to copy. His worldwide correspondences with personal friends and professional colleagues in academic settings and industrial laboratories was based on the respect given his background and knowledge and the understanding that he knew how to weigh information and to make decisions about scientific quality. In short, his advice was sought and followed.

Intensity, conviction, and discipline were hallmarks of David Perlman. While he had a keen wit and delightfully wry but carefully hidden sense of humor, he never completely relaxed except when with his closest friends. His teaching, his research, and his writing, and even his hours of relaxation with music, theater, or on the faculty bowling league were tested against his own high and uncompromising standards.

In the latter days of his illness, his zest for life and quest for knowledge did not diminish. As late as December, 1979, he met his postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduates, conducting some of his classes from a wheelchair; he taught an Extension course in Puerto Rico in February 1979 and was planning for another such chose for the spring of 1980. With all his personal problems, he never forgot the birth dates of the children of faculty, friends, and colleagues.

While he did not seek them out, honors came to Professor Perlman. Among these are election to the rank of Fellow in the New York Academy of Sciences, The American Academy of Microbiology, and the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He was also awarded: the 1977 James VanLanen Distinguished Service Award and the 1978 Marvin J. Johnson Research Award by the Division of Microbial and Biochemical Technology, American Chemical Society; the 1979 Fisher Scientific Award in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology, American Society for Microbiology; the 1979 Charles Thom Award for Research in Applied Microbiology, Society for Industrial Microbiology; and the 1979 Pasteur Award for Applied Microbiology, Illinois Section, American Society for Microbiology. At his death on January 28, 1980, he was Edward Kremers Professor Pharmaceutical Biochemistry is the School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Avid student, inquiring scholar, distinguished and honored researcher, admired teacher, and respected administrator, David Perlman will be missed not only by his devoted wife Kato but also by his colleagues and many students of pharmacy and fermentation chemistry whose lives were enriched by his boundless and heartfelt concern. His many friends, who came to know and to lose this complex and caring human being, will miss him as well.


William L. Blockstein
Henry A. Lardy
Kenneth B. Raper
Charles J. Sih, Chairman
Melvin H. Weinswig

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