School Marks Pioneer's Passing

Dr. Irving London, a legendary figure at HMS, died on May 23 at the age of 99

Irving London
Irving London

Members of the Harvard Medical School community are mourning the death of one of its leading pioneers, Dr. Irving Myer London, the founding director of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health, Sciences and Technology (HST), which integrates interdisciplinary biomedical research, education and medical practice. London also taught the HST program's molecular medicine course for 50 years.

London was Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emeritus, the first professor to hold dual roles at both HMS and MIT. He died on May 23, 2018, at the age of 99.

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London, for whom the HST program was named in 2009, was a world-renowned hematologist and geneticist who received numerous awards and honors for his groundbreaking work explaining the molecular regulation of hemoglobin synthesis at the level of gene transcription and translation into protein.

“I’m thankful our community was privileged to celebrate him just a few week ago with a joy-filled dinner at the Harvard Club. Dr. London leaves a profound legacy, and we will honor him with a suitable memorial in the months to come,” said HMS Dean George Q. Daley, who was in the HST program as a student at HMS and who also taught a course with London. 

During his lifetime, London was a recipient of many notable awards for his work in hematology and genetics. He received the Welch Fellowship in Internal Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Theobald Smith Award in Medical Sciences from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship from the Institut Pasteur. He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a charter member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Distinguished service

Born on July 24, 1918, in Malden, Massachusetts, London pursued a bachelor’s degree at Harvard on scholarship. He graduated Harvard College in 1939, summa cum laude, with a bachelor of arts and then earned his MD degree from HMS in 1943.

As an undergraduate Harvard student, London was on the committee that gave 14 refugee students the opportunity to leave Nazi-occupied Europe to come to America to study at Harvard.

As a young doctor, London moved to New York to intern at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before serving in the U.S. Army as a captain in the Medical Corps.  He served in the military from 1944 to 1946 and returned to Columbia-Presbyterian afterward as a medical resident. He later became a research fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he began his teaching career. His research involved studies into the lifespan of the human red blood cell in normal and pathological conditions.

In 1955, London became one of four full-time faculty members, as well as the first chairman of medicine, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Medicine (now known as the Einstein/Montefiore Department of Medicine) in Bronx, New York. During this time, he also directed medical services at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center. He handled both roles until returning to his roots in 1970, when he came back to Harvard.

London served as the director of HST until 1985. Most recently, he also served on the board of directors and on the Biosciences Advisory Committee of Johnson & Johnson until 2003.

London’s wife, Huguette (Piedzicki) died in 2002. The two were married after a meeting in Paris and a long-distance courtship, in 1955. They are survived by their children, Robb and David London, Robb’s children, Jacob and Danielle, and many extended family members.

In a letter to the HMS community, Daley wrote that HMS will continue to be inspired by London’s brilliance and dedication and will continue to be a steward of his legacy.

“We will continue to be driven by his commitment to the highest levels of scientific excellence and patient care; to inquiry, collaboration and fundamental discovery; to helping the best and brightest minds in the world uncover new knowledge, dedicating ourselves to creating advances that transform health, wellness and the quality of life for every person,” Daley wrote, adding, “We all owe him an immeasurable debt of gratitude. It’s one that we can repay only by carrying forward all that he instilled in us.”