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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Pharmacology Graduate Program Director Barry Wolfe Dies

Barry Wolfe, co-director of the Ph.D. program in pharmacology and physiology and director of M.S. graduate studies, died last weekend. Wolfe was 74. 

Wolfe served as the vice chair of the department of pharmacology and physiology and was the longest serving director of the interdisciplinary program for neuroscience in the Georgetown University Medical Center. Wolfe was also the founding director of the master program in pharmacology.

Wolfe is survived by his wife Jacqueline Crawley, an internationally-known behavioral neuroscientist at the University of California, Davis, his son Andy Wolfe and daughter-in-law Melinda Diver, who are both also biomedical scientists. Barry Wolfe’s first grandchild was born in March. 

GEORGETOWN PHARMACOLOGY | Barry Wolfe joined Georgetown University faculty in 1989 and was the longest serving director of the interdisciplinary program for neuroscience in the Georgetown University Medical Center.

Wolfe’s caring, astute and kind personality resonated with both students and faculty, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology Chair Ken Kellar said. 

“He was an insightful, very smart, but gentle, colleague who treated everyone very nicely,” Kellar said. “People flocked to him, just a wonderful person.”

Among faculty, Wolfe motivated others to push boundaries though their teaching and inspired them to think creatively in research, according to Co-Director of the Ph.D program in Pharmacology and Physiology Patrick Forcelli. 

“We all respected him immensely as a teacher, but also a leader,” Forcelli said. “He pushed us to be our absolute best in terms of our teaching and our graduate training. But also, he had a sort of curiosity. He was the kind of person you wanted to go to when you had a grant you were trying to work on and you needed some advice.”

As a teacher, Wolfe was a mentor who was always available to discuss with students about their research, academic experiences and personal lives, according to Hannah Hathaway (GRD ’14), Wolfe’s former Ph.D student. 

“Barry always had his door open. He spent hours talking with me about experiments, graduate school, statistics, life … everything,” Hathaway wrote in an email to The Hoya. “He was supportive and at the same time pushed students to be their best. He was an amazing mentor.”

Wolfe was the “social glue” of the department, according to Kellar and Forcelli. Wolfe planned Friday night movies for students and faculty, and would sample cheeses at Trader Joe’s to serve alongside the classic movies he enjoyed. 

Wolfe organized barbecues on the medical center podium a few times each year and the annual department retreat, where he would prepare food — including barbecue — for the group. 

Wolfe’s personal interests were broad, including astronomy, sailing, snorkeling and ceramics, according to Kellar. 

“We enjoyed science together, we enjoyed research together, but he was so much more than that,” Keller said. “He was an amateur astronomer, he built his own telescopes. He had many hobbies, including pottery, which he was very good at.”

Wolfe went every Thursday night to an arts center in Bethesda, Md., to craft his pottery. He enjoyed crafting small bowls and coffee cups, which he would gift to his friends. 

Astronomy was Wolfe’s nonpharmacological scientific passion. Wolfe regularly went to the darkest locales throughout West Virginia and Virginia to stargaze, and he traveled internationally for the best astronomical experiences, according to Kellar. 

“He would make arrangements to travel to places where the eclipse would best be seen,” Kellar said. “Five or ten years ago he went to Chile because that was going to be the best place to see the eclipse. He was a man of many talents.”

Prior to joining Georgetown University’s faculty in 1989, Wolfe served as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado Boulder, according to an email sent by Medical Center Executive Dean Edward B. Healton. Wolfe attended the University of California, Los Angeles for his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, California State-Northridge University for his master of science in chemistry and the University of California, Santa Barbara for his doctorate in philosophy in chemistry, according to the email. 

In his renowned research, Wolfe focused on the regulation of neurotransmitter receptors and signal transduction mechanisms, publishing around 150 research papers, according to Kellar. Wolfe was a trained cellular and molecular neuropharmacologist who worked to develop antibodies for certain receptors to help identify receptor types and locations in the brain, Kellar said. 

The field studying neurotransmitter receptors is only about 40 years old, and Wolfe was a pioneer in his field and laid the groundwork for much of today’s research, according to Kellar. 

Wolfe’s clear teaching style helped students learn complex material and helped make the content easier to understand, Forcelli said.

“Students, the first thing they probably noticed about him was that he was an exceptional teacher,” Forcelli said. “He is one of the best teachers I have ever met. He had a way of taking very complicated material and made it digestible and approachable for students.”

The department of pharmacology and physiology will honor Wolfe’s legacy by continuing to focus on the sense of community that Wolfe created within the department, according to Forcelli.

“I think that one of the things that I think he really cared very deeply about was maintaining the sense of community and collegiality and friendship in our programs between students and faculty,” Forcelli said. “I think that’s something that has had a permanent impact on the way we work here and I think that we will keep those going.”

This article was updated Nov. 3 to reflect Barry Wolfe’s role as the founding director of the master program in pharmacology and Ken Kellar’s position as the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology Chair. The article was also updated to reflect Hannah Hathaway’s doctoral degree and Wolfe’s legacy.

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  • E

    Eric W JohnsonAug 4, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    You often think about the people who made a difference in your life when its too late to thank them. COVID has not helped. I was planning to spend a few days in DC and thought I’d track Barry down, touch base, and catch up. After all its only been a decade. A beautiful soul.

    I had no idea he was a fellow Umbraphile. I should have liked to chase an eclipse or two with him. Farewell my friend and clear skys.

    THE OLD ASTRONOMER. Sarah Williams

    REACH me down my Tycho Brahé,—I would know him when we meet,
    When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
    He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
    We are working to completion, working on from then till now.

    Pray, remember, that I leave you all my theory complete,
    Lacking only certain data, for your adding, as is meet;
    And remember, men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
    And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

    But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learnt the worth of scorn;
    You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn;
    What, for us, are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles?
    What, for us, the goddess Pleasure, with her meretricious wiles?

    You may tell that German college that their honour comes too late.
    But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate;
    Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
    I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night.

    What, my boy, you are not weeping? You should save your eyes for sight;
    You will need them, mine observer, yet for many another night.
    I leave none but you, my pupil, unto whom my plans are known.
    You “have none but me,” you murmur, and I “leave you quite alone”?

    Well then, kiss me,—since my mother left her blessing on my brow,
    There has been a something wanting in my nature until now;
    I can dimly comprehend it,—that I might have been more kind,
    Might have cherished you more wisely, as the one I leave behind.

    I “have never failed in kindness”? No, we lived too high for strife,—
    Calmest coldness was the error which has crept into our life;
    But your spirit is untainted, I can dedicate you still
    To the service of our science: you will further it? you will!

    There are certain calculations I should like to make with you,
    To be sure that your deductions will be logical and true;
    And remember, “Patience, Patience,” is the watchword of a sage,
    Not to-day nor yet to-morrow can complete a perfect age.

    I have sown, like Tycho Brahé, that a greater man may reap;
    But if none should do my reaping, ’twill disturb me in my sleep.
    So be careful and be faithful, though, like me, you leave no name;
    See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.

    I must say Good-bye, my pupil, for I cannot longer speak;
    Draw the curtain back for Venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
    It is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery Mars,—
    God will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.

  • S

    Sarra Djemil, PhDOct 20, 2020 at 9:56 pm

    It’s been almost a year since you passed, but you are as present as always in the lives of those who were lucky enough to know you. I still drink coffee in the mugs you made and sit in your office and think of the rich conversations we had over the years.

    May you rest in peace my dear mentor and friend

  • S

    Stephen J Wall MD PhDAug 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    My mentor in training three decades ago, but an influence in how I try to conduct myself always. A man who embraced life and lived for others.

  • R

    Rachelle Toman, MD, PhDDec 28, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Barry role modeled the person I aspire to become – kind and supportive with uncompromising standards. He pushed us all to reach new heights while providing a safe landing when it was needed.

  • J

    Jonathan BeinDec 20, 2019 at 11:26 am

    For Barry,
    Today the sky is leaden gray and the rain has poured down
    It has been a day of tears but I have not shed them for you
    I’m crying for us, for those who love you and have been left behind
    We are the grieved, the ones who won’t have you to share a night under the stars, a simple meal, good conversation, glass of wine, or just the good feeling of having you around.
    We are the ones who have lost you and are saddened beyond compare.
    Today I want to shake each passerby and yell in their ear, “Don’t you know?” because the world has changed for all of us and they seem so unaware.
    The days and nights bring endless reminders of my love for you and it seems as if it will be forever so.
    I pour my morning coffee into the mug that you made, and add sugar from the bowl you gave me.
    How can I look at the sky and not think of you?
    But from now on I will only have the memory of your voice, your laugh, your embrace.
    The gift of you was generous beyond compare and I’m crushed by the loss. I’m sure that with time the pain will subside, but the gratitude for the gift of your friendship will never leave.

  • D

    Dr. Kwame M. BrownNov 19, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    I will miss you Barry. I am a better scientist and a better man because of you.

  • K

    Karen LithgowNov 17, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Barry was on my snorkeling trip in Raja Ampat and in Palau. We had the same type of camera we were trying out for the first time and had fun figuring out how to use it best. He was a wonderful conversationalist, an intelligent and kind man. He will be missed.


  • M

    Martha I Davila-GarciaNov 13, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    He was one of the nicest, caring and generous professor and mentor one could have.


  • L

    Lan DuongNov 3, 2019 at 6:24 am

    What an irreplaceable loss to the pharmacology department and to the university. So rare are those professors who truly inspire their students and colleagues alike.

  • D

    David EpsteinNov 2, 2019 at 8:57 am

    The ceramics arts center in Bethesda the article refers to is Glen Echo Pottery. We at the pottery can all attest to Barry’s wonderful gentle personality and his deep interest in pressing the boundaries of his art.

    • H

      HarsimratNov 6, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      You will be deeply missed dr Wolfe:-( RIP..