March 7, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 11

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    Noted biochemist Martin Mathews, 1912 –– 2002

    By Catherin Gianaro
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Biochemist Martin Mathews, Professor Emeritus in Pediatrics and Biochemistry and a former faculty member of the Kennedy Mental Retardation Research Center at the University, died Wednesday, Feb. 6, at his Hyde Park home. He was 89.

    “His ideas on tissue repair and tissue remodeling were far ahead of their time,” said Nancy Schwartz, Director of the Kennedy Center and Professor in Pediatrics. “Only now are we beginning to put some of those ideas into practice.”

    Specializing in connective tissue and the evolution of collagen and proteoglycan molecules, Mathews approached science from an evolutionary perspective. “He tried to understand why these molecules worked the way they did based on how they evolved,• Schwartz said. “He always looked at his work in a more dynamic and three-dimensional context.•

    Mathews pioneered the production of chemical and structural standards for glycosaminoglycans, according to Schwartz. “His work served as the bread and butter for the field.•

    Born May 30, 1912, in Chicago, Mathews grew up in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. He earned his A.B. and A.M. in chemistry from the University in 1936 and 1941, respectively. He then served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945, rising in rank from a 2nd lieutenant to captain. He returned to his studies at Chicago after the war, earning his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1949.

    That same year, he joined the University faculty as a research assistant. During his career at Chicago, he advanced to Professor by 1967, serving 10 years before retiring as Professor Emeritus. His academic pursuits include a yearís sabbatical at Kingís College at the University of London.

    Over the years, Mathews authored scores of papers and abstracts and earned membership to the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Biological Chemists, Sigma Xi and the Society for Complex Carbohydrates. During retirement, he became more interested in the “philosophy• of science as a founding member of the Bateson Society––a local organization that holds discussions about the work of Gregory Bateson, a biological anthropologist who was long interested in how the mind constructs reality or how individuals’ psychological make-up reconstructs events.

    Mathews also pursued sculpting and mask making with the same fervor.

    Lawrence Pottenger, Associate Professor in Orthopedic Surgery, credits Mathews for leading him to the idea of teaching Doctors as Helpers and Guides––an undergraduate course that has gained popularity during the past three years. “He gave me the courage to think like that,• he said.

    “He was all about helping people think. He changed my life.•

    Schwartz added, “Marty was a very engaging person. He loved to talk about science and a variety of other topics. His students loved to talk with him, and he’d spend an exceptional amount of time with them. His thinking would go beyond the usually considered aspects of a subject. He was a very interesting, broad-thinking individual.

    Mathews is survived by Alma (Miller) Mathews, his wife of nearly 60 years; son James Mathews of Chicago; daughter Judith Mathews of Evanston, Ill.; and grandchildren Ben and Anna Goldberger, and Noah Silver-Mathews.

    A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 9, in Ida Noyes Hall.