Campus & Community

Harold Amos, first African-American department chair at HMS, dies at 84:

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Made significant research contributions to many fields

Harold Amos, the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School (HMS), died Feb. 26. He was 84.

A faculty member for nearly 50 years, Amos made significant research contributions to the fields of animal cell culture, bacterial metabolism, and animal and bacterial virology. He was the first African American to chair a department at the Medical School and is remembered by generations of students and colleagues as an extraordinarily dedicated and caring teacher and mentor as well as a staunch advocate for minorities in biomedical science.

A native of Pennsauken, N.J., Amos graduated from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., in 1941. He had gone there on an academic scholarship, something few African Americans received at that time. He served in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe during World War II. Following his military service, he earned an M.A. from Harvard, then received his Ph.D. from the Harvard Medical School Division of Medical Sciences in 1952. From 1951 to 1952, he was a Fulbright scholar at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and, in 1954, he joined the Medical School faculty as an instructor in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. From 1968 until 1971, and again from 1975 until 1978, he served as chair of the department (now called the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics). He was named the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in 1975 and became emeritus in 1988. He also served as chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences from 1971 until 1975, and from 1978 until 1988. Amos received an honorary Sc.D. degree from Harvard in 1996.

“Dr. Amos has been an inspiration, mentor, and career counselor for young scientists and physicians-in-training for decades,” said John Mekalanos, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. “He has been the consummate teacher: available, approachable, knowledgeable, and wise. Members of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics are forever grateful that Harold Amos has been our adviser, colleague, teacher, and friend.”

Amos devoted much of his time and effort to supporting and encouraging minorities in biomedical science and medicine. He supported the establishment of the Hinton-Wright Society in 1983, a graduate student body at the Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine that supports and encourages minority scientists in the Boston medical community. In 1999, he was awarded the first annual Harold Amos Faculty Diversity Award for his continuous contributions to diversity efforts at the Schools.

On the national level, for more than a decade he directed the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and he was instrumental in creating minority programs at the National Institutes of Health and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. In 2001, the Harold Amos Fund, an endowed graduate student fellowship for students in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, was established by his many friends and former students.

Amos was one of the first two recipients of the Dr. Charles R. Drew World Medical Prize, awarded by Howard University to distinguished minority biomedical scientists. He was also awarded the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, a doctor of science honorary degree from Harvard University in 1996, and a Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal in 2000. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1991 was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Institute of Medicine.

He also served on the President’s Cancer Panel and the National Cancer Advisory Board, and for more than 30 years served in various leadership positions with the American Cancer Society.

He is survived by one brother and four sisters, Howard R. Amos, Iola Thomas, Joyce Hester, Florine Williams, and Margaret Johnson. His family resides in New Jersey.

A memorial service is being planned.