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Colleagues, former students, and friends were saddened by the death of Harold Amos, 26 February 2003, from stroke complications. He was 84 and the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the Harvard Medical School Division of Medical Sciences. There he chaired the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from 1968 until 1971, and again from 1975 until 1978, and was the first African American to chair a department at the medical school. He is remembered by many as an innovative scientist, a dedicated teacher, a mentor to generations of students and scientists, and a steadfast supporter who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of minority biomedical scientists.
Amos was born in Pennsauken, N.J., and graduated from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., in 1941. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in Europe. After completing military service, he earned an M.A. from Harvard and, in 1952, earned a Ph.D. from the Harvard Medical School Division of Medical Sciences. From 1951-1952, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and joined Harvard's Medical School Faculty, in 1954, as an instructor in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. Amos also served as chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences from 1971 until 1975, and from 1978 until 1988.
In 1951, Amos joined ASM. His major research interest was the regulation of glucose transport in chick embryo cells and he conducted research with animal and bacterial viruses and in the area of bacterial metabolism. He was also interested in cancer research and was appointed in 1971 by President Nixon to the National Cancer Advisory Board. He served on the President's Cancer Panel and held various leadership positions within the American Cancer Society.
Even after retirement in 1988, Amos continued to promote the advancement of minorities in biomedical careers and, in particular, in academic medicine. Accordingly, he was highly sought as a speaker and a consultant.
John Mekalanos, current chair of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics said in the March 6, 2003 issue of the Harvard Gazette, “Dr. Amos has been an inspiration, mentor, and career counselor for young scientists and physicians-in-training for decades. 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 helped establish the Hinton-Wright Society in 1983, an organization at Harvard that supports and encourages minority students to pursue biomedical careers; and was a primary resource for information that led to the development of ASM’s William A. Hinton Training Award. His mentor at Harvard was J. Howard Mueller, former department chair of bacteriology and immunology and the mentor of Jane Hinton, daughter of William Hinton and codiscoverer of Mueller-Hinton agar.
For his “tremendous success in encouraging and facilitating the entry and advancement of underrepresented minorities into careers in medicine and biomedical research,” Amos received the National Academy of Science’s highest honor, the Public Welfare Medal in 1995. In 1999, the Harold Amos-Genevieve McMillan Scholarship Fund was established to encourage African Americans to pursue medical careers; and in 2001, a Harold Amos endowed graduate student fellowship was established by his friends and former students.
Among his many other honors, Amos was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the Institute of Medicine, a trustee of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and a recipient of Howard University’s Dr. Charles R. Drew World Medical Prize. He received the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal in 2000 and an honorary doctor of science degree from Harvard University in 1996. Amos’ legacy of service to advancing biomedical science and scientists serves as a model for all.