Robert P. Perry, 82, early leader in DNA research

Robert P. Perry: "True visionary."
Robert P. Perry: "True visionary."
Posted: July 22, 2013

Robert P. Perry, 82, of Churchville, Bucks County, a scientist whose early research helped unravel the mysteries of DNA, died Monday, July 15, at home of complications from neuropathy.

Born in Chicago, he graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in mathematics in 1951 and earned his doctorate in biophysics at the University of Chicago in 1956.

At the time, the helical structure of DNA had just been discovered. Dr. Perry devoted his career to studying how the structural and functional characteristics of living cells are determined by the information encoded in their genes.

His discoveries helped explain how the genetic blueprint is translated into active cell products - enzymes, antibodies, and other proteins - that carry out the cell's functions.

He was recruited by Fox Chase Cancer Center in 1960 and stayed for 46 years before retiring. In addition to serving as associate director of the Fox Chase Institute for Cancer Research from 1971 to 1974, he was the first to occupy the center's Stanley P. Reimann Endowed Chair in Oncology Research in 1994.

The following year, Fox Chase gave Dr. Perry another top accolade - the Stanley P. Reimann Honor Award.

Jonathan Chernoff, the cancer center's senior vice president and chief scientific officer, called Dr. Perry "a giant in molecular biology."

"Personally, I will always remember Bob as the ultimate scientist's scientist; a true visionary and an unparalleled example of the value of basic research," Chernoff said in a statement.

Dr. Perry's contributions were recognized early, leading to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. He served on the organization's Committee on Human Rights and was part of a 1978 fact-finding mission to Argentina and Uruguay.

As an academy member, he also took part in a 1987 scholar-exchange program with the Academy of Sciences of the former Soviet Union.

Besides his work at Fox Chase, Dr. Perry was a professor of biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and taught molecular biology and biochemistry to graduate students.

He lectured widely and was visiting professor at the University of Belgrade in 1965 and at the University of Paris in 1974.

Fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian, Dr. Perry acted as an Italian translator while in the U.S. Army Reserve. His language skills came in handy again when he was president of the UNESCO-based International Cell Research Organization.

Despite his scientific achievements, he always wanted to be called Bob, never Dr. Perry, said his daughter Adele Perry Danziger. He loved traveling and spending time with relatives and friends at his historic Bucks County home.

His daughter described him as confident, friendly, and approachable. "He was always the largest person in the room, but he never made you feel stupid," she said.

Surviving, besides his daughter, are his wife of 57 years, Zoila Perry; a son, Rocco; another daughter, Monique; seven grandchildren; and a brother.

Services and burial were private. Plans are pending for a public memorial later this summer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Donations may be sent to the William J. Clinton Foundation via www.clintonfoundation.org.

Condolences to the family may be offered via www.wrgrantfuneralhome.com.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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