R. N. Perham at the helm: 1998–2013

Authors


Abstract

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With this issue of FEBS Journal Richard Perham's fifteen-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief comes to a close. During his time the twentieth century was left behind and in scope and scale the biological sciences expanded in ways resembling the stuff of science fiction. In response, the journal co-evolved with changes in the science and in the scientific community that the journal serves..

Although my association with FEBS Journal is just four years old, I have known Richard Perham, our soon-retiring Editor-in-Chief for a much longer time. In fact, ever since we met that gray, dank day in September 1969, when I pitched up at St John's College Cambridge for a crash-course of remedial mathematics, prior to starting in earnest on the Natural Sciences Tripos. That same year our Editor-in-Chief was married to Nancy Lane. Without doubt, they were the glamorous couple on campus, and much admired for it. Nancy, a zoologist, was a Fellow at Girton College and Richard, whose association with St John's College began with his undergraduate years, was climbing the academic ladder as both a College Fellow and lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry. In addition to mathematical zeal, St John's provided a most welcoming place for aspiring, if callow, young scientists. Epitomising this ethos was Richard Perham, who with charm, wit and an effortless style, took charge of any needy situation to help us freshmen learn the ropes from the older hands. And indeed we were freshmen, because the academic population of St John's at that time had an equal number of X and Y chromosomes.

Since leaving Cambridge in 1972, I have enjoyed crossing paths with Richard in a sporadic series of brief encounters – some planned others serendipitous – which in recent years have happily increased in frequency: most often in Cambridge, but also London, Palo Alto, San Francisco and elsewhere. At the 2005 FEBS Congress in Budapest we literally bumped into each other. Next day over lunch, Richard explained how he was there in his official capacity as the Editor-in-Chief of FEBS Journal. He went on to relate the unique history of the journal, with its rapid evolution from Biochemische Zeitschrift, to European Journal of Biochemistry, EJB the FEBS Journal and most recently, FEBS Journal. This conversation continued the following year, when I was taken on sabbatical to Cambridge, by my partner Frances Brodsky, a cell biologist, who was a Visiting Fellow at King's College. Richard had by then reached the giddy top of the academic ladder, having been Head of the Department of Biochemistry 1985–1996 and Professor of Structural Biochemistry 1989–2004. He was then Master of St John's, where he and Nancy watched over a diverse academic population in which the Y chromosomes were comfortably outnumbered by the X chromosomes.

Seeking the muse, I challenged PubMed with Perham R. The result: 257 publications, every one of them authored by Richard. Clearly, he has no equals! The search highlighted his outstanding career in enzymology and molecular machines and also reminded me that Richard has roots in immunology, with its penchant for rapid, if not frenzied, evolution. Early on in his research career, in the mid 1960s, when precious little was known of antibody structure, Richard published several papers, including one in Science, showing that mouse immunoglobulin light chains consist of variable and constant regions. Although his hard-won data consisted of small, partial sequences, they enabled both informative interpretation and imaginative assessment of the genetic diversification of antibodies. In this spotlight it augurs well that Richard's successor at FEBS Journal, Seamus Martin, is also rooted in immunology. During the four years that I have been working with Richard, as the immunology Editor for FEBS Journal, the magic of his persuasive, inspiring leadership, remains as fresh as my first memory of meeting him and being immediately handed a glass of sherry. It was certainly no happenstance that the European Journal of Biochemistry was revived, invigorated and transformed into FEBS Journal during the 15 years that R.N. Perham was at the helm.

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