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Professor Simon Baumberg

Simon Baumberg

Professor Simon Baumberg, who has died after a short illness aged 67, was an expert on how bacteria adapt and respond to changes in their environment and was one of the most respected members of the UK Microbiology community. Simon went up to Merton College, Oxford on a scholarship in 1958 and graduated in chemistry in 1961. Initially he was intent on a career in Chemistry; however, during his time as an undergraduate, he acquired a life-long interest in the genetics of bacteria. Following his graduation, Simon joined the Oxford Physical Chemistry Laboratory to study for a doctorate under the supervision of the Nobel laureate, C.S. Hinshelwood. Even at the outset of his research career Simon demonstrated a remarkable ability for independent critical thinking. Rejecting the thesis of his supervisor, Simon quickly identified the innovative work of Hayes at the Hammersmith Hospital and Jacob and Monod at the Institute Pasteur, using newly developed techniques in bacterial genetics to show that gene regulation rather than chemical kinetics was the basis for the extraordinary ability of bacteria to respond to changes in their environment. The results from his thesis, published by Simon as the sole author, have stood the test of time. After the award of his doctorate, Simon then spent two highly enjoyable and productive years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of one of the pioneers of the study of gene regulation, Dr Henry J Vogel, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Simon returned to the UK in 1966 to take up the appointment of Lecturer in the newly formed Department of Genetics at Leeds University, where he remained until his retirement in 2005. Simon was a true academic with a keen sense of what was important. As a teacher he was universally admired for his gentle but persuasive approach to learning. Many of his former students were privileged to become his friends.

Throughout his career Simon was valued for his sound judgement, integrity and sense of fair play as well as his outstanding scholarship. More importantly, he was committed to the old-fashioned concept of the common good through his involvement with scientific research, the students he taught, the Jewish community, and his kindness to everyone that he met in all walks of life. Simon served in a number of capacities on the governing bodies of the Genetics Society and the Society for General Microbiology, being elected as an honorary member of the latter in recognition of his contribution. He also served on a number of committees of the Medical Research Council, including chairing the Advisory Board and the Stem Cell Users Liaison Committee. He was also a member of the Biological Sciences panel for the 1996 and 2001 Research Assessment Exercises and was subsequently called upon to provide honest and perceptive advice to may university departments preparing for 2008 exercise. He listened carefully to opinions and was kind and attentive to the most junior member of any team, committee or organisation for which he worked. He was also a gentle though perceptive critic, whether examining students or having to explain to an influential scientist why he or she would not be getting the research funds to which they felt they were entitled. In recognition of his service to science, he has awarded an OBE in the 2005 New Years Honours list an award he always found amusing, given his instinctive lack of self-importance.

Simon was an active and committed member of the Leeds Jewish community. He was actively involved in the Soviet Jewry campaign during the 1980s. More recently he served as chair of Leeds Masorti community, and on the board of Sinai reform Synagogue. He was on the organising committee of Leeds Day Limmud, and recently was appointed as its chair. In all these various activities his contribution was immeasurable; the breadth of his interests and associations, the depth of his knowledge, and the civility of his manner were unparalleled. His contributions to the cultural and religious life of the community will be sorely missed.

Despite remaining active in the scientific and Jewish communities Simon found time in retirement for his long-standing passion for hill-walking and his rekindled passion for choral singing. All his life he had a passion for classical music, particularly the twentieth century masters, and history. He loved debate and discussion, talk and listening. His activities were interrupted by a minor stroke earlier this year, and it was during his treatment that his cancer was discovered. Despite his considerable achievements, Simon was an extraordinarily modest man who would have been slightly bemused at the hundreds of friends and colleagues who turned out on a boiling hot Sunday afternoon in April to pay their respects at his funeral. His spirit and deep sense of humanity live on in Simon and Ruth's sons Jeremy, Adam and Ben and four grandchildren, Lizzie, Cassie, Danny and Raphael.