Obituary - Leslie Lessinger (1943 - 2009)

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Leslie Lessinger (1943 - 2009)

ACA RefleXions, Summer 2009


Leslie Lessinger, AB 1964, Ph.D. in Chemistry 1971, died peacefully at home in Brooklyn, NY March 13, after a 3-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Les was an x-ray crystallographer from his early years in graduate school. After graduation from Harvard he spent 18 months with R. Srinivasan at the Centre for Advanced Study of Physics at the University of Madras, where he developed an abiding love for India and particularly for Madras City (now Chennai). He spent 3 years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Physics Department of the University of York with M.M. Woolfson. He then spent one year as research fellow with T. N. Margulis, in Boston. In 1977 he was hired to teach in the Chemistry Department of Barnard College in New York City and remained there until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in June 2008. At Barnard he was known both for his dedication to students and for his wide-ranging intellectual interests outside chemistry.

He carried out research on the fundamental methods of x- ray crystallography and he contributed to the solution of the crystal structure of several compounds of bio-pharmacological importance. He was an invited speaker at the international direct methods schools in Erice (Italy, 1974), York (England, 1975) and Sao Carlo (Brazil, 1976).

When I received from Hanna the news that Les had passed away I was gripped by a sense of loss. I had seen him for the last time in Seattle in 1996 and then we lost contact, but Les has always remained an unforgettable friend. Despite our different backgrounds, I felt we had many things in common, and not just because we both were left-wing non-practicing Jews.

During our common exciting experience in Michael Woolfson’s group in York in 1974-75, I had the privilege of sharing with him many ideas and conversations, not only on science, but on the most different aspects of life. I admired his gentle but firm attitude of preferring the world of actual facts to that of arrogant appearance. This attitude can be appreciated by reading again his classical paper on “MULTAN Failures” (Acta Cryst. (1976) A32, 538-550).

We then met at a number of meetings, Hanna showed me and Carmelo Giacovazzo around Boston in 1976 and in 1985 Les and Hanna visited us in Torino on the occasion of the 9th European Crystallographic Meeting. When in 2007 I attended the meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Salt Lake City, I was surprised not to see Les, but now I know the sad reason: he was fighting against pancreatic cancer.

- Davide Viterbo