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.
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.