Purnell Choppin, 91, Dies; Researcher Laid Groundwork for Pandemic Struggle

Purnell Choppin, 91, Dies; Researcher Laid Groundwork for Pandemic Fight

In addition to his daughter, his wife Joan also survived.

After taking over the Hughes Institute, Dr. Choppin likes to tell his colleagues a story about meeting their famous reclusive benefactor. In 1938, Hughes, an accomplished aviator and industrialist, stopped at Baton Rouge to refuel, and Arthur Choppin took 9-year-old Purnell and his brother Arthur Jr. with him. They shook hands, but his main memory was that Hughes was “very tall.”

Dr. Choppin graduated from high school at 16 and entered LSU, where he also attended medical school. He received his PhD in 1953 and completed his residency at Washington University. From 1954 to 1955 he served in the Air Force in Japan.

He began as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and was promoted to professor in 1959. He later moved into administration and was vice president and dean of studies when he was hired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Howard Hughes had founded the institute in 1953 and later transferred all of his shares in the Hughes Aircraft Company to it for tax reasons.

Just a few weeks before Dr. Choppin, the institute sold the company to General Motors for $ 5.2 billion, immediately making it one of the richest philanthropists in the country.

In 1987 the president of the institute had to resign after a financial scandal, and Dr. Choppin was appointed to replace him. Over the next decade, he built it into a premier source of funding for biomedical research, distributing approximately $ 4.5 billion to hundreds of scientists and elementary and senior science education.


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